The Other Half of the Test, and How to Master It

We all know there is a lot of material to learn on the path to mastering the SAT or ACT – formulas, grammar rules, reading strategies. But there is another skill to master: the mind game.

During the nearly four-hour test, pacing, endurance, and fatigue become huge factors in our mental performance. These hurdles make up the mind game: the psychological prowess needed in partnership with the material to maintain rigorous concentration during the test’s unique conditions. Rather than being learned in a lesson, these skills come from building the muscle of focus. And like any muscle, it needs to be trained. 

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Training is not something that happens over night – at our second trip to the gym, we don’t run a marathon. Instead, we take active steps to train this muscle during our practice.

Practice. Interesting word, that. What do we know about practice?

We are taught that practice makes perfect. This is not true. An aspiring pitcher who practices by bowling the baseball probably isn’t going to be very successful, even if they practice all day every day.

The truth is: Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

This means when we prepare for the test but do not exercise the mind game, we are making permanent the limited focus and energy we are bringing to our practice. That is why it is so important to push ourselves to improve focus during all of our SAT/ACT practice.

There are steps we can take to train our focus and improve our mind game when we study for the tests:

THE ENVIRONMENT

Just like test day, your practice space needs to be distraction free. Find a quiet space, preferably with as few people around as possible. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If kid brother is always practicing his air guitar and mom always has an endless number of phone calls, tell your family “Hey, I’m going to be studying for the SAT/ACT at 7 tonight, can I have an hour of quiet-time in the house?”

Most importantly, put your phone away. In another room, preferably. Practicing with it buzzing at the other end of the table is going to make permanent that little voice in your head wondering what your friends are texting you. It won’t be there on test day, so get it outta there.

Or better yet, head to LogicPrep anytime, and we’ll set you up in a distraction-free study space or an empty room. We’ll even hold your cell phone behind the front desk for you.

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THE BODY

Given the intensity of high school, it is understandable that sometimes SAT/ACT homework happens later at night than we might want. But attempting these endurance-based tests when we’re losing our energy to stay focused is bad practice, and builds bad mental habits. If you feel yourself losing steam, it might be best to call it a night and start up again in the morning.

Hunger can be just as distracting as tiredness. Stock up on brain foods to snack on before you begin your SAT/ACT practice, like nuts or berries. Just like with our phones, we do not want to make permanent the state of distraction that an empty stomach brings.

THE MIND

You know the feeling when you’ve read the same paragraph for the third time but still can’t remember what it is about? That’s your mind’s signal telling you that your focus is temporarily low and needs a little reset. There’s no use reading it a fourth time – we don’t want to make that mental state permanent. Instead, take a micro break. Try moving your body: walk up and down the stairs or do ten jumping jacks. Use this moment to wipe your slate clean and return to the question at hand as if it’s the first question you’re working on today. Slowly, our mental muscles improve, and we can reset and focus by simply taking a deep breath. But until then, note when your mind is drifting, and take active, physical steps to correct it.

In order to build the mental muscles required for staying focused during these large tests, it is important that you study in test conditions. Remember, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.