I've always been extremely hard on myself. It all began in second grade when I enrolled in a private school. I quickly learned just how competitive it was. During my time there (from second grade to ninth grade) my mentality about grades and scores was, to put it lightly, messed with. No matter how well I did on a test or a project, I would never think it was good enough. I remember struggling with Chemistry in ninth grade. I put in an enormous amount of effort, but still felt defeated when I got an 89 on the regents. I was told (by my chemistry teacher) that anything under a 90 was "disgraceful." Looking back, an 89 is outstanding (not to mention only one point away from a 90), especially knowing how much I struggled with it. But at the time, I felt like I had failed.
I carried this mentality with me to high school. I felt that, if I did not grasp something right away, I would never be able to. I particularly struggled with this mentality during my preparation for the SATs. Prior to the first SAT that I took, I spent a lot of time doing practice tests. I had set a goal for myself at 2000 because I thought that "that's what smart people get." But on the practice tests, I did not make that goal. Though I was making improvements, I was continually discouraged. After I took the SAT in March, I finally accepted the fact that I probably would not get over a 2000. I ended up getting a 1920 (570 on math, 630 on critical reading, and 720 on writing). I wouldn't say I was disappointed. I had definitely made major improvements from when I first started. But I still wanted to reach my goal. I decided to keep practicing for the June SAT.
I remember one session that I had with Steve. He gave me advice that I will never forget and that helped me so much on the June SAT. I said something to him like "I really hope I get a 2000. If I don't, I'll be so upset because I've worked so hard…" He then told me "If you think like that you will be too distracted. Focus on the task at hand. When you're taking the test, focus on doing each problem – do not focus on the outcome." This advice stuck with me. I remember sitting there on test day saying to myself "focus on the task at hand."
Not only that, but I was also very relaxed and comfortable on test day. That is also extremely important. Don't listen to what anyone says about "not studying the night before" or "studying the night before." Do what makes YOU comfortable. If you want to review vocabulary or math formulas, go for it. I certainly did. But I did not stress myself out. If you don't feel that studying the night before would be beneficial, then don't. Just say to yourself "Whatever I get, I get. I know I will have done my best." Do not listen to your peers about the SATs. That was the worst mistake I made. There is no set "good" score, or a "score that smart people get." That's ridiculous. If you know you tried your absolute best then whatever you get is fantastic, and you should be proud of it. Go into test day ready to handle the task at hand. Worry about the preparation, don't worry about the outcome.
All of Steve's advice really, truly helped me. When I received the results from the [June 2011] SAT, I nearly screamed when I saw my scores. I had raised my grade by 240 points to a 2160 (710 critical reading, 650 in math and 800 in writing). I had surpassed my goal even more than I had ever imagined. While I recognize the amount of effort I put in, I also attribute this score to the advice that Steve gave me.
I truly hope that my story speaks to you and gives you hope. I once read similar stories on the MSTYT website thinking "wow, if only I could make such a great improvement." I never thought it could be possible because I was always so hard on myself. But trust me, it is possible. If you put in the effort and take Steve's advice, you will not be disappointed. But you must be open-minded. Do not ever tell yourself that you're not smart enough to do something. You have the ability to ace this test. I'm so glad I finally realize that myself.
Emma Z., Boston University '16