In the late 1960’s, Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford conducted a series of studies that examined the concept of delayed gratification. His research team offered preschoolers the choice of one reward immediately or two rewards if they waited for about fifteen minutes. The rewards were usually marshmallows and the study later became famous in popular culture, known as “The Marshmallow Test.”
In addition to being a fascinating study on impulse control and delayed gratification, the research is quite relevant to the subject of standardized tests. Dr. Mischel and his team tracked the preschoolers later through life and found empirical evidence that showed a correlation between the ability to delay gratification with the rewards to higher SAT scores, among a host of other positive attributes and characteristics. The ability to employ strategies that help delay gratification is much more important than what one did as a four year old. These strategies are learnable, and in that regard they are applicable to the preparation process in gearing up for the SAT.
One of the biggest barriers for many students is just to start studying. Every day there are so many distractions that pop up, whether it is social media, TV, or extra-curricular activities. Avoiding the temptation to immerse yourself in these impulses and diligently prepare for the SAT is half the battle. Enabling yourself to improve self-control will be helpful in all facets of life, especially on the SAT. Here are some things Mischel recommends and how they can be specifically applied to the SAT.
Make sure you are in a good mood. This one sound pretty simple and for good reason, it is. One’s emotional state plays a significant role in determining how susceptible they are to various distractions. If you get anxious just thinking about the SAT or consistently dread reviewing vocabulary, the first thing to do is change your mindset. If not, approaching it like a chore then it will be hard to close that Facebook notification when it pops up. Mischel discusses a host of individuals who were able to change their mood and improve their self-control. If they are able to do it with much more daunting tasks, then getting excited for the SAT is definitely within the realm of possibilities. Find something you enjoy in school and try to relate it to the SAT.
Focus on the intermediate and end goal. This is related to having a positive outlook, but it is a bit more concrete. Understanding your end goal (a high score) and the effects of that result, your dream school admittance, can help block out distractions. However, this can get old after a while and on its own is not effective enough to truly master self-control. It is also important to keep intermediate goals in mind as well. Whether this is increasing the amount of words you can learn in a day or moving up a math section score, keeping intermediate goals that you are constantly hitting will keep you motivated and help you ignore what is on TV.
While these are only two of the many strategies and tips Mischel lays out in his book, they are the most applicable to the SAT. They can be extremely helpful in getting you to start the process of studying each day. Happy Studying!
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.