I loved martial arts growing up, but used to absolutely detest drills. My teacher always insisted on placing the most physically demanding forms at the end of each drill session, so every other evening I spent my practice time dreading the end of the hour. Today, however, I apply the same strategy to teaching SAT classes: I have my students complete an essay (for many of them the most daunting part of the SAT) at the very end of each 3-hour class. Most of them complain or groan a little, but many have told me afterwards that the practice was very helpful!
Why? Like my martial arts instructor regularly reminded me, study and performance training are two very different things. Study involves learning, digesting, and analyzing material and concepts so that they can be retained and later applied. Study can be scheduled flexibly, or timed to coincide with moments of especial productivity and focus, because the point is to learn effectively. The SAT involves plenty of study, since knowing rules and concepts in math, grammar, and writing are key to success. However, there’s a significant performance aspect to the SAT as well.
Unlike study, performance training—for a recital, a test, or an athletic event—needs to be done to schedule. Practicing when you’re at your best, your most energetic, or most optimistic probably won’t adequately reflect test conditions. When I took my SAT, loud and distracting construction work was going on nearby the classroom. This year, my younger brother caught the flu and had to scrape through the test on an early morning after having stayed home sick for four days straight. Performance training involves practicing regularly and at many different levels of well-being, since you don’t have total control over the circumstances under which you may have to perform, even if you study, eat, and sleep as well as you can.
One of the best ways to do this is to set a regular (and practical!) SAT schedule—a practice test every Saturday morning, five practice questions right after school every day, etc.—and to stick to it, whether you’re feeling tired, unfocused, or even just plain lazy. Waiting for the right moment, for convenience, or for a peak in productivity is dangerous. Not only because it encourages procrastination, but also because it can’t prepare you for unexpected moods or interruptions on your test day. Everybody has times when they’re not at their best, but the difference that sets the best performers apart is their ability to overcome those times. Best of luck on the exam!
Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.