I admit it. I am a perfectionist. My default is to want for everything that I do to be flawless, beyond criticism. A deep part of my psyche expects that of myself, and I am sometimes hard on myself if I don't meet my own virtually impossible standards.
I really empathize with my students who approach the SAT or ACT as perfectionists.
Unfortunately, perfectionism doesn't work well at all on standardized tests. (I could make a strong argument that perfectionism doesn't work well for much of anything in life and is very unhealthy in general, but I'll stay focused on the topic at hand.)
Many of the strategies that I teach are geared toward using every moment during the test in an optimal way to get as many points as possible. Often, succeeding at getting a great score means being willing to let go of getting a perfect score. Hanging on to the hope of a perfect score and not being willing to let go of questions in order to answer everything else on the test well is a great formula for an extremely disappointing score and panic setting in as time runs out with unanswered questions remaining.
Several years ago, I had a student who had improved a lot over the time we had worked together, was scoring very high on SAT practice tests, and had really mastered the strategies that I had taught her. She, her parents, and I all considered her to be well prepared to score well. Then, when she was doing the real test, perfectionism took hold of her. She wanted a perfect score, not merely a great one. She couldn’t let any questions go. She couldn’t skip anything. She forgot or ignored all of her strategies. As she wasted precious minutes on a couple of questions that she was unlikely to get correct in any case, she fell behind. She became more anxious and even ceased to think clearly. How well do you think she did on this SAT?
Fortunately, she was still in her junior year at this point and was able to take the SAT again. After more work together, on the subsequent sitting she was able to let go of perfectionism, use her strategies effectively, and score extremely well.
I emphasize to all of my students in the weeks and days before their tests: do on the real test exactly as you have been practicing. It is working for you. You know how to get a great score by doing what you have been doing on practice tests. Perfectionism is the greatest enemy of great.
To discuss your SAT or ACT coaching needs, contact Inspired Test Prep by phone at 206-395-6676 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.