Test Day Cold Feet

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I get this one a lot from my students, especially right before someone's very first real ACT or SAT. Do any of these sound like you? Have they crossed your mind as your first test date approaches?

  • It’s 2-3 weeks before your first SAT or ACT, and you keep making careless errors on simple comma splice questions or word problems you should know by now.
  • In fact, you may have had a score breakthrough in one or two sections (English or Math, for example), but you have another section that isn’t budging (like Reading).
  • You are having trouble focusing. When you sit down to do another practice test, you hear that little, tiny voice inside you say something about “what’s the point?” or “you’ll never get this?”
  • In fact, that voice has gotten SO LOUD that you just HAVE to take action! You’re completely fired up, and you know JUST what to do to take the mental chaos away: TAKE THE OTHER TEST!

In other words, if you’re studying for the ACT, you’d fantasize about switching gears to the No-Calculator land of the SAT. After all, you’ll get more time for pretty much all the sections, right?

And if you’re scheduled to take the SAT, you’d have dreams of changing course to the ACT: you’d really love for your reading passages and math word problems to be more straightforward, right?

And I GET IT! It all seems SO rational, SO real, SO legitimate.

I’m I here to tell you it’s all BS.

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See, I recently had the crazy experience of walking on fire…barefoot. Well, to be clear, the fire had gone out, so I just walked on 2000-degree coals for about 9 or 10 steps, but still. And MAN, in the hours leading up to my fire walk (kids, do NOT try this at home!), my mind went crazy with every single reason why I shouldn’t do it:

  • I might burn my feet! And not fit into my wedding shoes!
  • Worse: what if I fall in the coals and burn my face?!
  • What’s the point? I mean, do I really need to walk on burning coals to show myself that I can? What am I really going to get out of it?
  • And also, I know I could do it if I wanted to…so why do I have to do it? I know I could.
  • I’m tired. It’s 12:30 am! I should skip this and go home. I’m not really missing anything. It’s not really going to change my life in any way.
  • I promised my fiancée I wouldn’t.

It wasn’t until I saw a dear friend of mine start to verbalize some of these exact same thoughts (minus the fiancée part!) that I had a sudden realization: these aren’t “reasons”—they’re just FEAR. Fear, pure and simple.

So, my magic words to you, dear high school juniors and seniors who are convinced that you’ve been studying for the wrong test this whole time and now need to change course a week or two before the SAT or ACT: that’s just FEAR talking. In fact, your mind is concocting a slushy cocktail of BS. But DON’T drink its Kool-Aid!

Here’s what got me to actually walk on fire:

  • I realized all these very rational-seeming reasons were, in fact, total BS. Just FEAR talking.
  • I saw that literally 15,000 other people were doing it and not getting burned. While I’m pretty freakin’ awesome and smart and talented, I’m not so special as a human to be the 1 in 15,000 that would get burned.
  • I had already trained for it. I knew exactly what to do, where to focus my gaze, what mantra to say out loud, how to walk.
  • In that moment before taking my first step with my right foot onto the red coals, I had to just trust my training and the teacher who trained me. And GO!

So if you're about to walk on fire—mentally speaking, by taking your first SAT or ACT—ask yourself these questions before you decide to bail out because of fear:

  1. Did I already take diagnostic tests at the beginning of my test prep process to see how I’d do on both tests?
  2. Did I—or a test prep expert—determine which test would be more advantageous for me to do based on those diagnostics?
  3. Have I been progressing on that test? Like, not from last month or last week, but have I gone up AT ALL in ANY SECTION from my diagnostic test? Even a little bit? Maybe not to target score levels, but at least higher?

If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, which I’m sure you can, then I promise you, IT’S NOT THE WRONG TEST. YOU’RE JUST AFRAID. And that’s totally normal. But fear shouldn't dictate your actions.

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If you’re convinced you’re different from everybody else (like the other 15,000 people who firewalked and DIDN’T get burned), then you can always do this simple trick: take a mock test of the one you’re thinking of switching to. It's only a couple of hours, and it might be worth it if it'll really help put your mind at ease.

There are only three things that can happen:

  1. You can’t even finish it, because you remember how much you hated the SAT and are soooo glad you chose the ACT, or vice versa.
  2. You CAN get through it, and the score is lower than the test you’re preparing for. (Which we already knew from the diagnostic testing in the first place. Hopefully, no one says “Told you so!” too loudly…)
  3. You score much higher on the new test than the old test.

Now #3 basically NEVER happens, but if you really ARE the 1 in 15,000, go for it! Register for the next sitting of the new test.

BUT STILL SIT FOR THE OLD ONE, just in case! Trust me. I've seen this freakout a lot of times.