When most people take the SAT, they set target or goal scores for themselves. Statements like, “I need to get an 1800,” and, “I want to improve my Critical Reading by 50 points,” are common aims heard among high school students. Even though these thoughts are common (and make sense, since the ultimate goal of the SAT is to get the best score possible), it doesn’t mean that they are helpful in really improving on the test. In fact, focusing all of your energy on a target score can actually diminish your ability to perform better.
Just like how it is impossible to try to win a game (just think about it – what you’re really doing is trying to play well), it is equally impossible to try for a score on the SAT. What you’re really doing is trying to figure out how to take the test well. Given this, it is better to set goals directly involved with the specific aspects of the test than to aim for arbitrary score improvements!
Here are a few tips for healthy goal setting:
1) Focus your energy on the content of the test. This mindset puts all your energy into the nitty-gritty of test taking, and prevents distractions. Wondering whether getting a question right will bring you from a 750 to a 730 on the reading section does not make you more likely to recognize a misplaced modifier – in fact, such distraction actually hurts your ability to catch mistakes.
2) Better input, better output. As crazy as it sounds, by thinking less about your score, the more your score will increase. By getting better at each individual parts of the test, you will feel more confident about your ability to take the test as whole. In a self-reinforcing cycle, this will give you the energy to make more improvements on specifics, thereby leading to a greater overall score.
3) Take the long-term view. Focusing solely on scores puts too much emphasis on variable results from practice sections. Scores on individual practice tests can vary widely due to a variety of external factors. Focusing on long-term growth and deep understanding of the types of questions on the test will remind you that even if your score on a practice test temporarily went down (due to bad guessing, etc.), your arc of performance is bending toward improvement.
4) Don’t put yourself in a position to come up short. It is very easy to stress if you have a goal score in mind but are struggling to reach it. Avoid this dilemma by setting smaller, more content-focused objectives that you are more likely to achieve. Seeing yourself do well and accomplish your goals will give you the confidence necessary to jump into the harder sections of the SAT!
Above all else, remember that while a good score may be your ultimate goal, you can only get there by diving into the details.
By Aidan Calvelli.