Sophisticated standardized exams like the SAT & ACT are, by their very nature and purpose, designed to be challenging yet accessible to all test takers. The architects of these instruments accomplish those twin goals by testing fundamental reading, writing, and math skills that everyone, in theory, should know in ways that exploit what they don’t know.
That said, most teens bring little awareness of how these tests are designed the first time they sit down to take one. How hard can a test like this be anyway for someone who has been learning reading, writing, and math since kindergarten? Instead, like the fabled citizens of Lake Wobegone, most of us suffer from a tendency to overestimate our achievements and capabilities in relation to others. Yet, we cannot all be better than average on a test meticulously scaled to ensure that exactly half of test takers fall at or below the mean.
How can test takers overcome the urge to underestimate the difficulty of tests like the SAT & ACT in relation to their own abilities in the core content?
Obviously, preparation is always the key to best results on tests, but the arrogance of overconfidence may cause testers to dismiss prep and practice out of hand. Overcome that cynical sense that you’ve been there before by recognizing that every complex activity is difficult before it becomes easy. Adopt a beginner’s mindset.
A beginner’s mindset describes an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying. This mindset need not be reserved for basic subjects or tasks, as even the most advanced content can be learned more effectively when approached as a beginner would.
Since this process describes approaching new activities the way a child might, it’s hardly difficult to do. Follow four easy steps to your beginner’s mindset:
1. Forget What You Think You Know.
Clear your mind of preconceptions about the task. Become open to anything.
2. Take Your Ego Out of It.
If you’re new at something, you will not be judged by your initial performance. Don’t worry about looking like a pro until you are one.
3. Be Playful.
We often learn most quickly and deeply when we fully engage with curiosity and delight. Any activity can be fun if you allow it to be.
4. Take One Step At a Time.
Mastery won’t happen in a minute. Don’t rush success, but reach for it step by step.
Ignorance of a challenge renders us all beginners when we first face it. Embrace the excitement that a beginner brings to learning, and you’ll be an expert before you know it!