03 September 2011

Worry about yourself, not everyone else

One of the things that inevitably drives me crazy is when a student proudly announces to me that he or she is determined to take the SAT in a particular month because that’s when either 1) the test is always easier, or 2) that’s when all the stupid people take it, and so of course they’ll beat the curve that way.

Newsflash: the SAT is a *standardized* test. If the test is on the harder side, the curve will adjust accordingly and be a bit more generous. If the test is easier, the curve will be harsher. And without significant work on their weakest areas, most people will repeatedly score within the same 20 or 30 point-range — regardless of how easy or difficult they perceive a particular test to be.

Besides, you are not just competing against the math whiz in your physics class (she’s taking it in November, so clearly that’s going to blow the curve!) or the moron in Spanish (well he’s taking it in June, so that must be when all the dumb people take it). You are competing against the hundreds of thousands of people taking it in Iowa and Mississippi and Alaska, not to mention Singapore and Sao Paolo, many of whom will have had very minimal prep and who will thus keep the average pulling toward about 500 across the board. Forget about “smart” juniors taking and early and “dumb” seniors taking it late. So many people take the test each time it’s offered that the average is always going to be about the same.

If you’re more concerned with trying to pull tricks that’ll give you a tiny little leg up on your classmates than with actually learning the material, you’re wasting your time. Tricks don’t get you to a top score, only knowledge and a willingness to be utterly, ruthlessly meticulous about your work. If you’re spending your time trying to figure out the easiest month to take the SAT, that’s a sign that your skills might not actually be solid enough to get you the kind of score you want.

Every single kid I’ve worked with who wanted to focus on these kinds of easy outs at the expense of getting to the root of their problems 1) did in fact have some form of underlying weakness that they didn’t want to address, and 2) consistently failed to make the kind of improvement they wanted. The kids who get the very top scores — the ones for whom a 770 CR constitutes a bad day — don’t spend their time worrying about those things. Their skills are so strong that it doesn’t really matter whether most people think that the test is “hard” or “easy.” If you want to be seriously competitive with them, you need to focus on getting yourself to that point as well. The other stuff…well, it’s peripheral at best.

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