MASTERING SAT/ACT TEST-TAKING SKILLS (ADVICE FROM SENIOR TUTOR, RACHEL FLYNN!)
When I was 16, I got my first real, not-after-school, not-employed-by-my-parents, timecard-based job. I was inputting data and complicated tables into spreadsheets for a massive arts organization. It was awful: tedious and painfully boring. And, I had to wear business attire, arguably the worst of all attires.
The work was DIFFICULT for me. It required a focus and attention to detail that did not come naturally to me. I was sullen and decidedly not a cheerful coworker or employee. “I’ll never make it to the end of the summer!” I wailed to my (very patient, very no-nonsense) father. He looked at me with his typical stoic reserve and quietly admonished, “Rach, you can do anything for two months. Anyone can do anything for two months.”
He was right. He usually was. Though I’m sure that I continued to agonize over my spreadsheets and pencil skirts, the two months inevitably passed and, amazingly, despite my lack of innate spreadsheeting skills, I became good at the detailed work.
When I think back on exactly how I got good at that kind of work, the answer is this: I just sort of couldn’t avoid getting better. I spent so many days being bad at it, failing and learning and failing and learning again, that those little lessons along the way started translating to progress. Essentially, I learned how to be less bad at it. That’s what happens when you’re forced to do something every day.
For almost all of our students, building the skills and habits to dig in on the ACT and SAT can feel impossible, especially in the beginning. When you’re also juggling schoolwork, sports, extracurriculars, community service, jobs, and family obligations, adding in something like test prep can feel overwhelming. What’s more, many students feel they lack the skills that make someone a “good” test taker. Maybe you think you’re “bad at fractions.” Maybe think you can’t schedule work in bite-sized pieces. Maybe timing seems impossible to master. When my students say this to me, I hear the echoes of my father, “Rach…you can do anything for two months…”, and I realize that his words were as true for me as they are for each one of our kids.
These tests don’t award extra points for natural talent; they reward persistence over frustration, hard work and determination. If you’re willing to show up every day and practice, fail, and practice again, you’ll find that you can master techniques, you can master strategy, and you can memorize those formulas you should’ve memorized in 7th grade. If you’re willing to let go of limitations you perceive but have never tested, if you ask for help from your tutor, your advisor and your family, you can succeed. If I could learn spreadsheeting, so can you—so can anyone.
Your tutors are here to help you hone your abilities, even those you consider personal weaknesses. Test taking is a skill and, as with any skill, the way to master it is through steady, consistent work – through putting in your 10,000 hours or (in my Dad’s words) your “two months of anything.” Your tutors aren’t just a resource for more math problems. They’re here to help you schedule, hone, and practice things that might not be in your wheelhouse yet. Bottom line? You’ve got this. No one, not your parents, teachers, tutors or even your dream colleges, expect you to get better alone.
Keep your head down, find time each day but, most importantly, ask for help when any of these things feel impossible. That’s what we’re here for. We’ve done this before and we happen to know that you can do anything, even the ACT and SAT, for a few months.