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Who are you exactly?

It doesn’t really matter who I am. My title is “Professional Studier” and that’s what I do: study.

Why am I talking to you?

You technically came to me so I feel like I should be asking you that question. But since I’m the one being interviewed; I would guess you probably need some help with studying?

Don’t I already know how to study?

You have a point. It’s not like you have gotten to where you are without some study skills. But I promise, I will make this worth your time. Over the years, you have probably developed some good study habits, but if I had to guess, you also have some not so great habits (shout out to my fellow procrastinators). The ACT will test the limits of these habits, and come test day, you want to be as familiar with the format of the test and the varieties of questions on the test as possible. Succeeding on the ACT will come down your ability to incorporate test studying into the habits you already have and overcoming the bad habits you may or may not already be aware of.

What does it mean to be good at studying?

When it comes to tackling the ACT, you are not being tested on your intelligence as much as you’re are being tested on your preparedness. Students who see the most improvement in their test scores are those students who can effectively nurture their strengths and apply themselves on improving their weaknesses. The idea of ‘natural talent’, especially when it comes to test taking, is overrated. Studies in psychology, sociology, and economics have shown the successful people are made, not born. Researchers have studied recruits at military academies, students in spelling bees, teachers in high schools, and salespeople in fancy offices, success was not determined by IQ, social intelligence, social status, talent, or good looks, but by grit. Greatness is earned, not given. In other words – practice makes perfect. Okay, I’m sorry, I’m rambling off clichés, but they are clichés for a reason! Your ACT score is fundamentally a measure of how well you prepare, and preparedness comes through focused repetition. Being good at studying is not about natural talent for test taking, but the ability to devote yourself towards achieving your long-term academic goals.

You mentioned something called grit?

We know that grit is an essential ingredient in finding success in any area of life, but what exactly is it? I’m so glad you asked! Grit is one of those qualities that is hard to precisely define. Grit is the ability to work with passion and perseverance, day in day out, for months or years at a time, towards a long-term goal. As Dr. Angela Duckworth who pioneered the study of grit said, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

How do I get… Grittier?

Another great question! There is no fool-proof, one liner that unlocks the secret to becoming gritty, but there are a series of small adjustments we can make in our daily lives to see some long term, gritty results. You need three things to cultivate grit: passion, practice, and hope. Chances are you aren’t passionate about taking the ACT, but I bet there are other long-term goals, of which taking the ACT is an important step, that you are passionate about. Maybe it’s becoming a doctor or an astronaut, maybe it’s becoming the next great computer scientist, or maybe thinking about the future is scary and you’re solely focusing on getting into the college of your choice, whatever your long-term goals are, be sure to keep them in mind when test studying feels tedious.

Once you have established your goal, the next two steps are somewhat self-explanatory. Practice is a necessary component of success in any facet of life, the ACT is no exception. The principal is simple: the more time you spend deliberately developing your test taking skills, the more improvement you will see. Once practice becomes a part of your routine, all you need is hope! This is easier said than done (like most advice) but it’s critical to maintain hope and faith in the idea that you are improving with every rep, even when that improvement isn’t immediately apparent. Failure is an essential step in finding success, so even if you don’t see the results you want, have hope and have faith in yourself and your ability to overcome any setbacks or plateaus. That’s it! That’s all it takes to be a grittier person!

Great! So all I have to do is sit down and do a bunch of random ACT problems!

No! There is a key word I think you’re missing in there: deliberate. Improvement only comes through deliberate practice, which involves a lot more than just completing a bunch of random test problems.

Okay fine. What does “deliberate” practice entail?

You are asking all the right questions. Deliberate practice, broadly defined, is using good feedback to focus on specific techniques that will lead to real improvement…

What in the world does that mean?

…. if you stop interrupting me maybe I’ll tell you.

I’m the one conducting the interview?

Touché. So anyways, what I was going to say earlier was: deliberate practice means being able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, refine your strengths, and focus on your weaknesses. It means receiving feedback on your work, identifying what you most need to work on, applying techniques that have been proven to work to fill those holes in your knowledge, rinse, and repeat. This process requires clearly defined goals. Wanting to ‘generally improve’ is not as good at motivating you as as the number ‘28’ written down on a sticky note.

Lastly, deliberate practice requires you to venture out of your comfort zone. It requires you to constantly try new things that you do not know how to do. If you aren’t challenging yourself, you aren’t improving, so be sure to try something that scares you every time you sit down to study. That may be solving systems of equations, completing a reading section in under 5 minutes, or just approaching the science section; whatever is most challenging to you will also provide the greatest opportunity for growth. This means that deliberate practice is not always the most fun but does result in the best long-term results.

This all sounds wonderful, but is there some sort of handy, easy-to-refer-back-to list that boils this all down into a few nice bullet points?

As a matter of fact, that list exists.