I didn’t expect Farnam Street to relate so directly to college admissions, but it does, and in a way that is as important as it is deep.
According to the post linked above, the outcome of a “winner’s game” is determined mostly by the actions of the winner; the outcome of a “loser’s game” is determined mostly by the actions of the loser.
So, in a winner’s game, superior skill matters, whereas in a loser’s game, it’s consistency that matters.
Everyone acts as though the SAT and ACT are winners’ games. And, for middle-tier scorers, they probably are. But for high scorers, these tests are loser’s games, 100%.
In other words, you don’t get from 1400 to 1550 by becoming smarter or more knowledgeable. You get there by consistently avoiding mistakes.
You show me a 1400 scorer, and I’ll show you someone who already has the necessary knowledge, but who also experiences some combination of anxiety, hubris, wandering attention, and/or magical thinking when it comes to answering the hard questions.
Getting rid of such bad habits is really hard. That’s why so few people get perfect scores.
That’s also why high scores are so prized.
Students suffering from test anxiety often make things worse by misunderstanding the nature of successful preparation work.
They think: “my goal is to have new knowledge and new techniques.”
But that’s wrong. The right goal is to have new habits.
Under pressure, all people follow their habits. So if you don’t have new, well-established, constructive and functional habits by Test Day, you’ll just automatically revert to what you did before.
And of course, when you do what you used to do, you’ll get the score you used to get.
The alternative is to painstakingly train new and better habits in the weeks (months?) leading up to Test Day. Then, under pressure, you’ll thrive.
(Also check out my book, specifically Chapter 9, Stress.)
“Test day jitters” manifests as “the problems were hard!” when what’s really going on is “I’m not quite as capable when I’m nervous / amped up / in the spotlight.”
The biggest barrier to addressing this issue is misunderstanding what’s really going on.
What skills should tutors have for accommodating visual / auditory / kinesthetic learners? None, I’m afraid; that’s simply not a thing.
And yet, many students’ lived experiences suggests that it is. Why?
I suspect it’s for more or less the same reasons that September babies are overrepresented among elite athletes: a small preference or advantage early on leads to more practice with a particular method, which becomes self-reinforcing.
More valuable than identifying learning styles, I think, is identifying skills that are necessary, but whose absence can go unnoticed.
(Then again, maybe the real moral of the story is that utility can be more important than truth.)