Good Enough is No Good

In Study Hacks, Test Prep General by Peter PengLeave a Comment

It’s T-10 for the June 6th SAT (and T-17 for the June 13th ACT). Are you ready?

Lately, many of you have been bombarded with APs and finals or, I don’t know, watching that tears-inducing The Flash finale (no? just me?) that you’ve relegated your SAT/ACT studies to the backburner.

So with little time left, we have to edge out every ounce of productivity and effectiveness.

The biggest factor of all is simple: how badly do you want this?

No, seriously, how badly? I want you to imagine getting a score you’d be ecstatic to earn. Something realistic please. If getting a perfect 2400 or 36 is not within your realm of possibility, then don’t be ridiculous.

Let’s say you’re currently scoring 1830. Then maybe 2000 is a realistic (though incredibly challenging) goal to reach in less than 2 weeks. Your target score should feel both possible AND impossible at the same time. It should teeter on the edge of “Oh man, that’s insane…there’s just no way, agghhh!” and “But if I work really, really, REALLY hard, then I think I MIGHT possibly get it.”

If you’re not feeling torn between the realm of MAYBE and NO WAY, then your number is not realistic. It needs to be a solid number that you might actually be able to reach within a couple weeks.

Now really visualize that number. Maybe write it down on a large sheet of paper with a sharpie and tack it to your wall. Stare at that beautiful number for awhile.

When you’re done falling in love with it, I want you to think of a number you’d be disappointed in getting. Not devastated, just disappointed. It should be a number that will cause a heavy sigh but not a crying meltdown where you sink into depression and start downing pints of ice cream.

Now honestly ask yourself this: “If this really is my final score, am I okay with it? Can I go on with my life?”

If the answer is yes, even though it’s not what you had hoped for, then I’m going to level with you…this is probably the score you’re going to get (or pretty close).

Why? It’s psychological.

If you’re willing to accept a lower score and you give yourself an emotional out, then you’re going to backwards rationalize why that score is really not THAT bad. And your mind will slowly accept that realization. At first you’ll be downtrodden, but soon you’ll start saying things like, “It’s just a stupid test. It doesn’t mean I’m dumb. I mean, I did way better than the national average. A lot of my friends did worse than me. I guess this isn’t good enough for Princeton, but screw that.”

It’s just human nature. It’s easier to accept a less than ideal situation by coming up with reasons why it’s fine than to allow yourself to feel the intense pain of failure.

And if you’re willing to be complacent, then you’re not going to reach your dream score. To give yourself the necessary motivational drive, you have to firmly commit yourself to your number and not even a single point lower. You cannot compromise because if you’re willing to take 10 points lower, then you’ll be willing to take 20 points lower (because that’s just 10 points lower than 10), and then 30 points lower (10 points lower than 20), and so on.

Those final points before hitting your number are the HARDEST to get, but you have to stick to your number without exception. This doesn’t mean you will definitely get your score, but it does remove the emotional outs you’ve created for yourself. Without those psychological safety nets, it’s do or die. You’re forced to study like your life depends on it. This dogged mindset is your most powerful weapon to getting as close as possible, or even exceeding, your goal.

I want to tell you a personal story about my own SAT scores. I’m not sharing this to brag but to illustrate a point about settling.

When I was in high school, I had a target number too: 1500 (the test was out of 1600 back then). And I knew I wanted an 800 math and 700 reading.

It was going to be hard, no doubt. But 1500 was my number I was going to reach NO MATTER WHAT. If I got a 1490, I knew I was going to retake the test again and again and again. So when I got a 1480 on my third try, guess what? I took it again and got 1520.

I could have set my reading bar higher than 700, but because I had been constantly scoring in the low to mid 600s there, I settled. I let myself say, “Okay, 700 is fine. What I really wanted was 750 or even 800, but if I get 700, I’ll live.” So guess what I got? 720–barely reaching my self-proclaimed goal.

Guess what I got on math? 800. Again, exactly what I had set my mind to.

There was no writing portion back in my day, but there was an identical SAT Subject Test: Writing. I had gotten a 790 on that test two times in a row, so I told myself, “Agh, I wanted 800, but 790 is good enough,” which is why I never bothered to achieve a perfect 800 there.

As Voltaire once said, “Good is the enemy of great.” I truly believe that. You’ll achieve what you are willing to accept, not much more or less. It’s no wonder why I got 1520 (barely over my 1500 acceptance level), not 1570 or something closer to that elusive perfect score.

If you truly want to reach your target score, you have to operate with this “all or nothing” mentality. It’s worked for me and countless of my students, many of whom actually went on to surpass my high school SAT score. I’m not saying getting a high score determines your worth, not at all. But I’m saying if you want to get a certain score, THIS is how you do it.

Adopting this mentality is THE most important factor on your SAT/ACT journey. Without a burning desire to reach your goal, no amount of sexy strategies or words of encouragement I can give you will be enough. But combined with a fire for excellence, the right strategies will skyrocket your score beyond your wildest dreams.

Commit to reaching your target score and be ready to work extra hard in these next 10 days or so. I’m not a fan of cramming, but soon, I’m going to release an emergency study schedule for the remaining time we have.

But for today, I want to know your thoughts. Do you function with such a high-stakes mindset, and what have your results been? Drop a comment below. I read every one.

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