“I'm not sure how to start this question. I hate logarithms. I don't think I'm doing very well on this section. I’ve already skipped too many questions. I'm going to get a bad score again. I'm not going to get into the college that I want to go to. My parents are going to be so disappointed. My friends all do better on this test than I do. I must not be very smart.”
Many of my students share with me that they often have internal dialogues such as this while they take the SAT or ACT.
Other students simply feel anxiety, frustration, or even despair as they stare at a difficult question, even if there isn’t a lot of internal dialog.
On tests where a couple of moments wasted can be the difference between a great score and a mediocre score, noticing these moments just as they begin to arise and dealing with them effectively is imperative in order to achieve a great score. Additionally, lingering with despairing thoughts or emotions can fuel more anxiety, more frustration, and more despair, which can turn into a downward spiral as a student proceeds with the test.
One of the first test-taking strategies that I teach my students is to notice their thoughts and their emotions as indications of what they should do on a question. I repeat this to my students until they have integrated it: “Are you telling yourself a story? Noticing that you’re having thoughts about a question that have nothing to do with the question? Having an emotion about a question? Simply not making good progress on a question? Noticing any of those is a victory in itself, and staying on a question while any of these is happening isn't a good use of your time. Guess and let it go (for almost everyone on the ACT) or skip it and come back to it (for the SAT and those scoring 34 and up on that section of the ACT).”
The faster students notice that they are not using the present moment in an effective ways to maximize their scores as they answer questions, the faster they can make good choices to use their time effectively and maintain positive and productive states of mind during the test.
I teach this very early in my work with students because it can take time to learn to do this well. As well as working on this technique when they do practice sections of the SAT or ACT for homework, I also recommend that my students practice noticing their emotions and thoughts as they arise throughout their days in order to practice and solidify these skills so that it becomes second-nature to them by test day.
I talk about this skill with my students as self-awareness, the ability to notice emotions and thoughts and make choices without being consumed by or even identifying with the emotion or thought.
As valuable as I consider self-awareness to be for the purpose of the SAT and ACT, I also believe that it is one of the most valuable skills that people can learn for all aspects of their lives. It is an essential skill in order to have a high level of emotional intelligence, to lead people, to build effective working relationships, to have deep intimate relationships, and to generally have a fulfilling life.
While everything that I teach and do with my students in every session is chosen for the purpose of maximizing their SAT and ACT scores, I do hope and believe that the majority of my students learn many things from working with me that will continue to benefit them long after they have taken their tests. If I could choose only one thing that my students learn and carry forward into their lives though, without hesitation I would choose for them this self-awareness.
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.