SAT Tip of the Week: Practice Makes Perfect

SAT Tip of the WeekAs the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.  It is true. Human beings are designed to improve, learn, and excel through rigorous and mindful practice. In addition to teaching, I also dance. When I was younger, dance class was simply a fun activity to do after school. I have come to learn now that I need to practice consciously every single day if I want to excel at dance and succeed.

Similarly, I have a good friend who is a professional musician. He often talks about how he did not like to practice when he first started out. Once he saw what practicing did for his performance, however, it became a daily regimen. A day rarely goes by that he does not pick up his trombone, for at least an hour or two to play. It takes effort and hard work to discipline yourself this way, but the payoff is well worth the energy. While mastering the SAT may seem different than mastering an art form like dance or music, it is actually exactly the same.

Most of the SAT students I teach understand the skills and techniques I teach them for the test. They can work through problems with me in class and understand, after an explanation, why they got an answer wrong.

“When though,” they always ask, “will my score increase?”.

“When you practice every night!” I tell them.

I remember very clearly when I was a high school junior, inundated with class work and after school activities. I often would not get home until 10pm and had hours of homework in my backpack just waiting for me to complete. I always managed to set my priorities when it came to studying for the SAT pushing myself to do a section a night. For a while, nothing happened. I remained daunted by the wording of math problems and baffled and bored by the critical reading passages. Despite this, though, I forged on and continued to practice and learn vocabulary words each day. Soon, I started to see a pattern in the questions and knew what steps to go through to answer them. Sometimes, I could even anticipate what parts of the reading passages would be asked about. I remember it all clicked one day. I could choose which techniques to use instantly and moved through each section with relative ease. My score jumped 400 points. I am certain that increase could not have happened without hard work and practice.

Practicing every night may seem daunting at first. Where do you start? Follow these tips to help you get started in a routine:

  • Break down the sections into short, manageable segments
  • Set aside 20 minutes each night to cover one segment
  • Use weekends as your break
  • Work your way up to 45 minutes each night
  • Download the free SAT vocabulary builder and practice on the go! Click here

Even in just 20 minutes you can make concrete strides toward your SAT goals.  Vocabulary practice, for example, is best accomplished in short but regular doses – not many students can stand a full hour of reciting vocab words and definitions, and even those who do will probably not remember much of what they did after the 30-minute mark or so. But 20 minutes a day of vocab work is powerful.  The key to identifying meaning with new words is to make them a part of your regular life.

When you were in 4th grade terms like “homeroom” and “third period” probably didn’t mean anything to you, but after a few weeks of changing classrooms every period you now throw those terms around without thinking.  The same goes for words like “bucolic” and “ignominy”.  If you say and use them 4-5 times per week between now and your test day, they’ll stick much more effectively than if you try to do a monster weekend of all-vocab-all-day.  So find those short periods in your day-to-day routine when you can fit in that small-but-effective dose of SAT practice and that repetition and practice will eventually make perfect.

If it is not easy to motivate yourself to practice consistently, give yourself an incentive. Reward yourself with something you love – sweets or a movie outing – if you stick to your practice plan for the week. Bet a friend, sibling or parent that you will practice every day for the next four weeks and, when you succeed, collect your hard earned money.  You can even create a contest with your friends – whoever practices for the most consecutive days wins. Whatever you find to motivate yourself, do it, because if ”practice makes perfect” you will be closer to that “perfect 2400.”

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Danielle Kipnis is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in Miami. She is a native New Yorker who then majored in English and Dance at Northwestern University. At Northwestern, she founded the dance company Steam Heat. She now continues to dance, choreograph, and satiate her love for teaching through SAT prep.