Practice Makes Perfect!
By Linda Suen
(SAT, Economics, Business, ACT, SSAT, IELTS and TOEFL tutor at The Edge Learning Center)
As a test prep and academic instructor, the question I get asked most often is, “How do I get a top score on ACT/SAT test preparation?” (or any academic subject or language proficiency test for that matter). While there are certain skills and strategies involved with different tests and subjects, there is one thing students can always do to improve their scores. That is… drum roll please… practice! I know it sounds clichéd, and it is. Standardized tests such as the Chinese Examination System have been around since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) and today they have transformed into formats such as the ACT and SAT. Even though technology has come a long way in helping us study nowadays, but tests are not likely to go away any time soon! That means practice still holds the key to the magic of mastering any subject or skill.
In his 2008 book Outliers, New Yorker columnist and author of bestselling book The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 rule, where performers, computer programmers, professional athletes and the like only master their crafts after at least 10,000 hours of practice. While it is certainly possible to have spent over 10,000 hours of practice in fundamental academic skills such as math and reading by the time we’re 18 years old, it is impossible to spend that amount time devoted to preparing for standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT. Since the publication of Outliers, many journalist and researchers have written to debunk Gladwell’s theory, with Gladwell defending his claim along the way. Crucially for our purposes, though, while the number 10,000 could be arbitrary depending on the field one is practicing (i.e. juggling vs. neurosurgery), it is certain that practicing a skill will make us more accomplished in that field or task.
No doubt talent also plays an important part as to how well we master a skill; however, innate ability will only get us so far. As students grow and learn, the more complex the academic pursuit becomes, the more important it is to practice a lot! Take for example preparation for the dreadful ACT or SAT test. Some are obviously going to perform better than others, but everyone can benefit from preparation and practice. Both ACT and SAT tests contain at least one math section. While the math is not exceptionally difficult for most 11th graders, ACT and SAT math is different from math taken at school in many ways. In school, students take one type of math at a time, e.g. geometry one year, algebra the next, etc. However, in the ACT and SAT tests, students are tested on a mix of math concepts all at once. That, coupled with less than 1.5 minutes average to answer each question, means that even those students who normally excel at math in school can find the task daunting. The solution, again, is to practice, a lot! More than any other section, the math part of the ACT or SAT requires rigorous practice in order to instantly recall a myriad number of equations from more than 25 types of math concepts. Practice is also critical in helping students manage their time during the ACT or SAT test in any section. Time management during a standardized test could spell the difference between a top score and a mediocre one.
Given that practice is the most important thing students can do in order to perform well in any standardized test or academic subject, it is also crucial that students practice intelligently as well. Renowned golfer Tiger Woods spends most of his time practicing the weakest part of his game, and so should students who practice for school studies or test preparation. Sure, it’s not fun to keep doing what we are bad at, but that’s how we can make a big difference in taking any test or honing life-long abilities. Take writing for example: most people are not crazy about writing because it is a difficult life skill. However, we can’t ignore the fact that no matter what we do, as students and adults, writing is an integral part of our lives. It is a skill that is easier to sharpen the earlier we start, no doubt. By the time we reach adulthood, most people find it exceptionally difficult to improve their writing without significant and concerted effort. In fact, I had an adult IELTS student who was so plagued by poor English writing skills that it sometimes took her an entire day just to craft and recraft an email, certainly time that could have been much better spent performing more productive tasks. Lesson there? Practice writing as early as possible and as much as possible! 10,000 hours of practicing writing couldn’t hurt, certainly.
As Gladwell aptly stated in Outliers, in addition to 10,000 hours of practice, greats such as The Beatles and Bill Gates also had timing, opportunity, and luck on their side. Although we cannot control our luck, we can certainly make up for it in practice. Particularly in ACT or SAT preparation, The Edge offers a variety of courses to help students practice in a structured and time-tested manner that is sure to make a difference between a mediocre or top score! Afterall, as the adage goes, practice makes perfect!