Most of the crew was gone. They were hitting the slopes at Mammoth Lake, but lucky me, I was burning from elevation sickness. Feverish disposition, bleary vision, and a grumpy attitude. Never before have I ever experienced such sensations, not in any of the many snowboarding trips I’ve taken throughout the years. Why here? Why now? It was the first getaway trip with my girlfriend, and my body had ruined it. We couldn’t even do what we had planned for weeks, looked forward to forever, and driven 6 hours to do.
Holed up in the cabin, I slumped miserably in front of the fireplace and flicked on the TV. But there was a silver lining. My girlfriend slipped beside me, spreading a flannel blanket over us. She had sacrificed her snowboarding adventure to be with me. I knew I loved her then and would tell her later that night for the first time.
“What should we watch?” I grumbled. I really wasn’t in the mood for anything. I prayed she wouldn’t say one of those sappy romantic titles, like the Notebook or something.
She didn’t. We got to the Chinese movie section, and suddenly, something caught our eyes. Ip Man. Well, we had come for action, so a martial arts action movie sort of made sense.
We quickly blazed through not one, but TWO of the Ip Man movies. We made a pact to see the third that was coming out in theaters soon. The draw of Ip Man was that he was a man of integrity and discipline. His most famous pupil was the great Bruce Lee, whose character made a few cameos. I ate the story up.
As a kid, I revered Bruce Lee—his confident composure, his wise philosophies, and his bad ass fighting skills. And that brings me to the point of today’s article: how to be like Bruce Lee to dramatically improve your SAT or ACT score.
In preparing hundreds of students, working for multiple tutoring companies, training many new SAT/ACT instructors, and developing curriculum for these tests, I’ve seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t. And there’s one constant factor that differentiates the successful students from the ones who are not: their practice/study approach.
WHY TAKING A BUNCH OF PRACTICE TESTS DOESN’T WORK
Bruce Lee once said, “I’m not scared of the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I’m scared of the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
This is the key to SAT/ACT success. It’s why most SAT/ACT boot camps fail. It’s why classroom programs rarely work. It’s why most self-guided study also falters. Almost everyone has this strange belief that doing more practice tests or more practice questions will automatically improve their score to the desired target.
I’ll admit, your score MIGHT go up by doing this—but only a little, very little. That’s because you’re getting familiar with the test format. You’ve begun to build up your endurance to focus for those 4+ hours. But in fact, I’ve seen many cases where the score drops after 20 practice tests. Interesting.
Why would you take your chances on such inconsistent and unpredictable results? This is the reason you see those articles on CNN, Yahoo, or wherever blaming the test prep industry for only raising scores on average 10-30 points, yet charging thousands of dollars.
Few students are being led through their test prep in what I’ve seen to be the MOST EFFICIENT and SUCCESSFUL method. The Bruce Lee method.
What Bruce meant was that if you just practice a whole bunch of different concepts, you’re not going to very good at any of them. But if you practice one concept 10,000 times, then no matter how the test wants to test you on that concept, you’re going to destroy that question. You know you’re a master of fractions, or subject-verb agreement, or inference questions, or whatever.
If you wanted to learn how to play piano, you don’t practice the whole song through every time. You’re wasting so much time practicing parts you’re already good at, and you’re not putting in enough work on the areas you struggle with. Instead, you would break the song down into parts and focus on a section at a time. It’s the same thing with the SAT and ACT.
If you just review a practice test by going over the questions you missed, you’re essentially practicing 10,000 kicks. See, almost every question on a practice section or test is a different concept or difficulty level. If you just do question 1 (say it’s Algebra: Factoring), then move onto question 2 (maybe it’s Geometry: 30-60-90 degree triangles), then do question 3 (perhaps combinatorics), then you’re only getting a superficial exposure to these different concepts.
The thing is, you’re never going to see those exact questions ever again on your real SAT or ACT. So what good does it do to know how to do those specific questions? What happens when the real test throws you a curveball and asks the concept in a roundabout way, with different numbers and circumstances? You wouldn’t know what to do—because you’ve never prepared for that specific variation. That’s why merely reviewing the questions you got wrong on a practice test isn’t effective.
I always tell my students that taking a practice test is like getting on the bathroom scale. Say you had a goal to lose some weight. You get on the scale and see your number. If you don’t like it, you don’t just get off and immediately get back on. It’s going to be the same number. Taking a practice test is like that—it tells you your score and helps you identify what you know and don’t know. But it doesn’t help you improve! The real work comes in between weigh-ins (in between practice tests). You have to do real exercising and dieting.
And that’s where students often go awry, just like the thousands of people going to the gym every year. So few actually make any tangible progress. They’re still the same overweight people, blaming their “thick bones” or any other number of factors. The reality is, they were never shown the proper technique.
If you want to be a successful student, be like Bruce Lee. He himself was an incredibly successful student of Ip Man. Remember, your goal is to practice one kick 10,000 times.
Now, I’m not saying go out and literally do 10,000 questions of the same concept. But do enough that you’ve truly mastered a few concepts at a time, rather than trying to attack all of them at the same time. That’s the key to success.
COMPLETION vs. COMPREHENSION MENTALITY
I teach my students to develop a comprehension mentality, rather than a completion mentality. If I assign you 100 homework problems, and you try them all, that’s wonderful. You did the work. But it might not be enough. See, if you already knew how to do 90 of those questions, that might feel amazing! In school, a 90 out of 100 would be an A! But you literally learned nothing. What did you do on those remaining 10 questions? Probably left them blank or randomly picked your best guess, hoping to go over it with me next week.
Why?!! Those 10 questions were THE PRECISE THINGS you needed to improve on. Students who simply complete the homework don’t see improvement. But students who focus on comprehending those 10 questions they don’t understand enjoy tremendous success, by leaps and bounds.
I teach my students how to create a focused hit list of concepts to tackle. Then we systematically work through each difficult skill with focused drills, so you can see all the different variations. We’re training to make you a true master, someone that even Bruce Lee would be fearful of because you’ve practiced each of your “kicks” 10,000 times. To discover a more in-depth process of implementing this Bruce Lee technique, check out my post HERE.
Yes, it’s important to take full-length, timed practice tests once in a while (it helps to gauge your progress, maintain skills you already had, and build endurance), but remember, the real dieting and exercising comes from creating a methodological regimen to focus on a few skills at a time. Master them well, then move onto the next concepts. This is what the best personal gym trainers do as well—they provide their clients with a workout system. They know which days should be leg days, which days should be arm days, and which days should be cardio days.
This is how you avoid the “kitchen sink” test prep method of taking dozens of practice tests and never seeing much improvement.
A PERSONALIZED TEST PREP SYSTEM
How would it feel if you could dramatically improve your SAT or ACT score without taking a practice test every weekend? With personalized prep, you’ll save dozens of hours off your study schedule.
If you’d like to get 1-on-1 guidance through my proven SAT and ACT system, tested on hundreds of students, then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck, my Bruce Lee pupils!