SAT Tip of the Week: How to Get Focused on the SAT

SAT Tip of the Week - FullSingular focus is a lost art. Whether it’s studying for a test, preparing for the SAT, or getting a presentation together, the ability to shut everything else out and concentrate on one activity is almost impossible for most people in present day. The influx of technology, social media, and heightened obligations are culprits for this new phenomenon, which author Daniel Goleman addresses in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman, who is well known for his book Emotional Intelligence, is a psychologist who has spent years studying the ability to focus. Years after revolutionizing how people understood and defined someone’s “intelligence” as more than a transcript, he has also provided very interesting observations and notes on the ability to focus and concentrate.

Many of his suggestions are extremely relevant to students in both high school and college. They can help with preparing for the SAT and studying in general. The ability to focus is a skill that can be built and improved if understood in the right context. Let me explain how Tunnel Vision and Open Awareness can help you boost your SAT score.


The first myth Goleman dispels is that attention is like a light switch. Conventional wisdom suggests that we can turn focus on and off. In this regard we are either paying close attention or completely daydreaming in the clouds. This black and white thinking is outdated and fails to take into account the various levels of focus and attention individuals can have. One such mode is what is commonly referred to as tunnel vision. It’s the extreme focus on one subject while blocking out all other distractions. This is great when under deadline or trying to get non-creative work done. While it is a hard state to achieve, this is the perfect mindset to be in when learning strategies or vocabulary for the SAT. The downside to tunnel vision is cell phones and the age of information overload makes it challenging for millennials to obtain this state of mind. Additionally, tunnel vision isn’t necessarily the most conducive to innovative or creative thinking.


The type of concentration that breeds innovation is what Goleman refers to as open awareness. He uses a variety of stream of consciousness authors to illustrate the type of mindset he pictures when explaining this new term. Open awareness is being in “flow” and receptive to new ideas, while working to connect the dots between seemingly disparate concepts. If a student is looking to write a stellar creative essay or come up with the next blockbuster movie, open awareness is where you want to be.


It’s one thing to understand the two main types of focus applicable to students. It’s an entirely different thing to build the skillset that will allow easy transition between the two modes. Goleman warns of this exact problem. He offers a couple salient tips that are simple to implement and very helpful in building the skills to improve the concentration abilities for anyone.

When it comes to tunnel vision, the most important thing is to forcefully minimize our dependence on technology for essential time periods. Whether this means turning phones and computers off, or even more drastic measures, the connected networks age is terrible for focus. Paying too much attention to this distractions causes “impoverishment of attention,” which makes it hard to apply the high level of focus one needs to go into tunnel vision mode.

When it comes to open awareness, mind mapping and letting the brain wander constructively are helpful. Again turning off electronic stimuli are important, but in this case it’s more about trying to connect random thoughts and writing them down to bridge gaps. Enough mind wandering will ultimately lead students to hit upon their creative thoughts.

Focus is an underrated skill and one that, if employed properly, has a massive payoff. Tunnel vision and open awareness are two states of thinking that many students can achieve! Using them appropriately, combined with time management and dedication, will get you huge results on your SAT score. Happy Studying!

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Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.