The Short Path Is The Long Path

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Slowing Down to Speed Up on ACT and SAT Reading

With ACT and SAT Reading, as with many skills, mastering the correct general technique (in this case, Hyper-Literal Reading) is itself a big help in increasing speed. In fact, focusing too soon on time management per se can actually impede one’s progress on the road to ultimate speed.

To illustrate this idea, I ask you to imagine yourself trying to teach a 4-year-old to tie her shoe laces. Every day, without giving it any conscious thought whatsoever, you yourself tie your shoes flawlessly. You don’t have to think about the steps involved. You don’t make mistakes and have to start over from the beginning. On top of that, you tie your shoes with lightning speed.

To you, pointing this out may seem silly. Of course you know how to tie your shoes! However, from the perspective of a 4-year old who hasn’t yet learned to tie her shoes, your unfailing deftness and blurring celerity in the art and science of lace looping is nothing short of miraculous!

Imagine that you’re babysitting your 4-year-old cousin, who has just gotten her first pair of lace-ups. But, for whatever reason, she hasn’t yet learned the first thing about how to tie them. Now imagine that your 4-year-old cousin watches you tie your shoes. Her eyes grow wide, and she exclaims, “Wow! I want to be like YOU! I want to learn to tie my shoes FAST! Teach me how to tie them quickly, like you did!”

You can see the problem: before your intrepid young apprentice can learn to tie her shoes fast, she must first learn to tie them at all. In fact, if she were to focus on speed right away, it would actually be counterproductive – it would increase the time it took her to learn how to tie her shoes, thus increase the time (and effort) for her to learn to do so quickly. It would also increase the amount of frustration involved in the entire process.

And this could initiate a downward spiral. What if the delay and frustration, caused by focusing too soon on SPEED instead of GENERAL TECHNIQUE, continued for a long time? Your perfectly capable novitiate might develop a sense of inferiority and insecurity. She might convince herself of something silly, like “I’m just not good at tying shoes.” Do you see where this is going and how it relates to SAT and ACT Reading time management?

On the other hand, what do you think might happen if you convinced your young cousin to FIRST focus not on tying her shoes quickly but rather to set speed aside for the moment and first learn to tie her shoes correctly – that is, accurately and precisely? Do you think that if she took your advice and consistently focused on properly tying her shoes, speed would follow just as naturally as day follows night? Did you ever deliberately focus on tying your shoes fast? Very unlikely. And yet, just look at you go!

This last point is worth emphasizing. How did you get to the point where you could tie your shoes so incredibly fast? (Without even trying or even looking!) Was it from studying shoelace time management tactics? Did you take a “speed lacing” class? Of course not. You probably never gave a single thought to tying your shoes quickly. You just learned how to tie laces, very clumsily and ploddingly at first, then continued practicing it every day, day after day, until eventually you could do it easily, with high accuracy and with impressive speed.

The moral of the story is that standardized tests are like shoe laces. Do I offer my students specific time management tactics for SAT and ACT Reading? Yes, I do. However, before jumping into all the specific tactical tips aimed directly at improving time on ACT and SAT Reading, it’s important to remind yourself that, by a long shot, the absolute best thing you can do to increase your speed is to focus first and foremost on the general strategy of Hyper-Literal Reading, until executing it flawlessly becomes second-nature, just like tying your shoes.

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