Dear Wes

We wanted to share some great news. (My son) presented 3 posters at the (large conference) in (major city) last week.  One of his posters on (interesting math topic) got selected as one of the top posters and he was invited to present it formally at the Abstract session.

(My son’s) confidence in math because of you has helped him achieve these amazing milestones.

Believe me, I really would love to take this credit.

But let’s be fair here: this student has gifts you would hardly believe. The entire family is inspirational: hard-working and accomplished, appropriately demanding but also warm and witty. It has been my great privilege to work with them, and with many such families and students.  I hope to continue meeting and helping people like this far into the future.

Even so, I’m going to permit myself to let this note make my month.

I really do appreciate the opportunity to do what I do.

ACT & SAT: are they winners’ games?

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.