Today I have shocking ACT Science results that a student of mine has gotten recently – and she’s gotten them by doing something very counterintuitive. In the 7 weeks we worked together, she raised her practice score by 13 points.
When students learn to slow down while working on a question, their overall test taking gets faster; they let themselves actually make sense of the question at their own pace, so they become more accurate. Paradoxically, they also get quicker!
Why are student scores low, even when taking all the allotted time?
Under the time pressure of an exam students often rush, reading questions too fast, scanning for key parts without processing them. Sometimes they reread the same question multiple times without really understanding it, choosing an answer quickly out of fear of losing time, and moving on to the next question.
My student’s biggest fear was about speed and timing, feeling like she had inadequate time to answer each question accurately. In our first session on March 4, she scored a 27 (34/40), with 30 seconds left at the end. On March 8, she first scored 30 (37/40) with 1 second left, and then 29 (35/40) with 3 seconds left. Despite using all the available time, she still could not raise her score significantly.
Time pressure triggers our instinct to go fast. In reality, when you slow yourself down, bit by bit you allow yourself to fully process a question and answer accurately.
So how does this method work?
The majority of time that is wasted in test taking is by not taking careful, patient steps through a question, but skimming, which forces the student to reread over and over again. When you read slowly through a question you are able to read it accurately, limiting it to a single, effective read-through.
I approached this student’s challenge by first teaching her about brainwaves and how to slow them down through meditation. I taught her this approach on March 15th, when her practice scores began to slowly rise, reaching a score of 34 (37/40) on March 25th with 4 minutes and 30 seconds left at the end.
She began a daily meditation practice, sitting for four minutes doing a mantra meditation. In every outbreath she said in her mind’s voice, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. When beginning each practice test, she wrote this mantra on the top of her test sheet. Importantly, she learned how to sit in stillness without going crazy.
After integrating her meditation habit, she achieved a 33 (38/40) with 4 minutes and 37 seconds remaining. By April 25th, she achieved a 36 (40/40), with 8 minutes and 2 seconds left on the timer.
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast”: a mantra that is effective an all arenas.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, the person who moves more slowly is at an advantage. Peak performers in all arenas where you would feel the pressure to go faster are champs at reminding themselves to slow down.
Navy seals, with their lives on the line, spend years reiterating and learning this mantra, reminding themselves to slow down. Even MMA fighters like Conor McGregor who are incredibly powerful and skilled, remind themselves to slow down to make themselves faster! McGregor even has the phrase tattooed on his arm. French Formula 1 driver, Alain Prost, often repeated the phrase “when I look slow, I turn slower and drive faster”.
In summary, as you move more slowly through a stressful process, it makes you more accurate.
How did my student do it?
By taking on a daily meditation practice to reinforce this approach to test-taking, my student was able to slow down her brainwaves. She truly gave herself the opportunity to learn, master and apply this technique – and then see the results.
This student has come far with this approach. If you or your child struggle with running out of time and feeling confused by questions, if your test taking anxiety is hindering you, we can help. You can achieve more accuracy and paradoxically, work more efficiently, by slowing down. Call us at (347) 593-8783.