Test Prep Mistakes: Fancy Pants Syndrome

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Today I want to address another problem that limits people’s scores, and that I see all too frequently with high achieving students. If that describes you (or your kid) today’s message is meant especially for you. But before I get into that, I want to ask you a couple questions:

1) How many spots do you think are open each year in the Ivy League? (about 16,000)

2) How many high schools do you think there are in the US? (about 37,000)

Now, let’s assume that you’re not just one of the top kids in your class – let’s assume you’re the valedictorian. According to the numbers I just gave you – over 20,000 of you, 20,000 valedictorians! – don’t even have an open spot in the Ivy League.

“Oh, but I go to a private school,” you say. Okay – how many private high schools do you think there are in the United States? The answer is over 10,000.

So, let’s assume that the year you apply to college, every single school in the Ivy League decides it is only going to accept kids from private schools – no public school kids at all. (obviously, this would be a PR disaster and will never happen). In that utterly unrealistic scenario, where you just basically won the lottery because you happen to attend a private school, how many kids from your school get to go to the Ivy League? About 1 and a half.

But unfortunately, it’s even worse than I’ve suggested because I only included the number of high schools in the US, yet the number of international applicants getting admitted to top schools has been on the rise for some time.

Alright, so I’ve probably made my point: it’s really, really hard to get into the Ivies. But what am I really driving at?

The point I really want to make is that I deal every day with kids who do really well at their schools. Maybe they’re one of the top students, at a fancy private school even, or maybe they’re even valedictorian material.

A problem these high achieving students sometimes face is that they are used to doing well, they’re used to being ranked among the best, and, at least when it comes to test prep, they can tend to assume that’s where they’re destined to remain.

Often, the consequence of this kind of presumption is that the students are resistant to 2 things that are critical for achieving optimal gains on the ACT and SAT:

*Consistent, daily practice and
*A focus on tactics

Here’s the problem with that. A lot of students unconsciously assume that the level of competition they face on the test is going to be like the competition they face at their high school.

But that’s not the case. On the ACT and SAT, you are competing with kids just like yourself – not just from across the country, but from across the entire world. And, as I just pointed out, there is not enough room for all of you. Not even close!

The reality is that this is absolutely a competition, let’s not pretend otherwise, and that some of you will win, and some of you will lose. Who do you think the winners are going to be? The kids who are smart and high achieving, but who consider themselves above primitive things like practice and tactics, or the high-achieving, smart kids who set aside their pride and get to work on the nitty gritty?

I don’t think I have to answer that question. We’re all familiar with the fable of the tortoise and the hare. What I am saying is this: don’t be the hare!

Now, maybe you’ve decided you don’t care that much. Maybe it’s not that important to you to get into the Ivy League or some other elite school. If so, fantastic. Good for you. You can turn this video off now because what I’m saying doesn’t apply to you.

Or, maybe you just hope to get into a really good school – not necessarily Ivy League, but a top tier school. Well guess what? Many of those schools are nearly as selective as the ivies. For example, the school I went to, UCLA, regularly tops the list of the toughest (public) schools to get into, based on number of apps versus number of acceptances. So don’t think that just because you’re not gunning for an ivy that the competition isn’t going to be fierce – if you’re looking to get into a good school, it most assuredly is.

Wow – sounds pretty grim, right? But my point here is definitely not to freak you out, depress you, or otherwise harsh your mellow. The point I’m trying to make, is that if you want a realistic shot at an elite or even top-tier university, you’re going to have to be humble in your approach to test prep. Do the practice, work the tactics, be disciplined and focused. Do the work – don’t be fancy.

Very likely, adopting this attitude will help you to get the highest score you’re capable of. So, even if you don’t get into the college of your dreams, you’ll still be able to sleep easy knowing you gave it the old college try.

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