The Dominate Test Prep Podcast

2. 5 Proven Study Habits for a Higher Score on Test Day

September 16, 2019 Brett Ethridge / Dominate Test Prep
The Dominate Test Prep Podcast
2. 5 Proven Study Habits for a Higher Score on Test Day
Show Notes Transcript

As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." That's especially true when it comes to the actions you should be taking on a consistent basis as you prepare for your standardized test. In fact, there are five (5) key study habits that I've seen from working with thousands of students over the years that, if you take them to heart and implement them consistently into your study routine, will inevitably lead to better performance and a higher score for you on test day. We lay them all out for you in this episode of The Dominate Test Prep Podcast.

Specifically, here's what you'll find in this episode:

  • The BE-DO-HAVE principle for success, based on the framework laid out by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits;
  • A thorough discussion of the five (5) key study habits that will inevitably lead to better results for you on test day if you consistently execute them during your test preparation;
  • From the Mailbag: Should you take a full-length practice test even if you haven't learned all of the material tested on your exam yet?
  • One simple action you can take now to start developing better study habits.

As promised during the show, here's a link to Atomic Habits if you want to grab a copy of the book and learn more about how to develop good habits in all areas of your life:

Toward the end of the show, I also talked about the importance of taking lots of full-length practice tests. Here's where you can find practice tests for different standardized tests.

GMAT (2 free):

GMAT (5 paid):

GRE (2 free):

GRE (6 paid):

SAT (8 official): The Official SAT Study Guide

ACT (5 official): The Official ACT Prep Guide

LSAT (10 official): 10 Actual, Official LSAT PrepTests

Finally, here's the full Aristotle quote that we began the show with:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

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Questions? Comments? Email us at

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we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit. Aristotle. Hello and welcome to this. The second episode of the Dominate Test Prep podcast. I'm bred Ethridge. I'll be your host and we have a big episode for you today. I'm really excited about today's topic. We're going to talk about habits, study habits. Five habits specifically, that if you learn them, if you implement them into your studying will pay huge dividends for you on test day. But before we dive in, I want to give a quick shout out to one of my students, Christianne, Christianne, if you're listening, she posted on one of my videos under one of the videos. In her course, she said, Quote, I love the way you explained things. Exclamation point. Thank you for giving me hope. I love that Christian. I'm glad you feel that way. You know that's a big part of what good preparation does. It gives you hope. It gives you confidence so often when we wade into preparing for a standardized test, we're not sure if we can do it. Maybe it's been a long time since you've done the type of math were verbal or logic tested on your particular standardized testing, and you're doubting you're wondering if you can do it. Well, good preparation breeds hope. Hope breeds confidence. Confidence breeds success on Test day, so Christianne stick with it. I'm glad you're having a good experience so far. Hope is a great thing. Now let's give the rest of you hope as well, starting with good habits, because good habits create, As Aristotle said, that excellence, that excellence, that translates to the confidence that you know you will have success on test day. Now I actually want to start before I give you the five habits, and I absolutely will. You're goingto love them. A few of them might be a little bit unexpected. Some of them might be along the lines of what you might be thinking. I'm going to tell you our good habits. A couple of them, though, might be a little bit unexpected for you. Ah, and we'll get there. But first I need to help build a framework. You know, some of what I'm going to be talking about really kind of. What prompted this topic for today's podcast episode comes from a book I've been reading. I'm almost done with it. I absolutely love it and highly recommend it. It's called Atomic Habits. By James Clear All go ahead and post a link to it in the show notes. If you're interested. Like I said, I do encourage you to pick it up. It's obviously not specifically about test preparation, but as I have been reading the book, I obviously a filter. Ah, lot of what I read through the lens of Would this help my students, or how would this apply to my business or two students taking a test or preparing for school? Or And I think there are so many take home points in this book that will help you develop the types of good habits that translate to success for you on test, and so we'll get into some of those. But I do want to establish that foundation, that framework that is essential to understanding habits and why they're so important and really where they come from, we are what we repeatedly do. What we repeatedly eat certainly influences the state of our health. What we repeatedly read influences how we think about things, how we view the world and what we repeatedly do in terms of preparing and studying for the standardized test, you know that you're studying for has a huge impact on your eventual success or lack of success on test day. You know, James Clear talks about how we often get the success flow backwards. He describes it as concentric circles where at the center is our identity, our core identity and out from that would be the process is the action steps. The habits that we would take toe ultimately hopefully create the outcomes that would derive from those two. The outcomes are kind of the outer shell of those concentric circles, but so often we actually start from the outside and work inwards, setting goals and kind of casting a vision of what we want, which is great. Maybe you have set goals for yourself in terms of the score you want on test day. Ah, school that you want to get into. And now maybe you're trying to figure out how to kind of backtrack from that and figure out okay, what kind of actions were kind of habits? Do I need to create to get there and you're neglecting the identity, peace, and in fact, your identity might ultimately kind of derive from whether or not you hit your outcome or not. And that's not healthy if you don't get the score you need, that doesn't necessarily change who you are at core. And so he says, we need to flow the opposite direction. You need to spend some time figuring out who you are, what your core identity is, and certain processes and actions will naturally derive from that. If you're the kind of person who you know when challenges present themselves, you persevere. You don't shrink away. You don't shy away from challenges. Instead, you embrace them. What types of actions, consistent actions would that naturally lend themselves to? And if you do those things repeatedly, obviously good outcomes will naturally happened. I call it the bee do have principle. That is the flow. Who are you? What do you want to be? And when you become that person, you will more naturally do the things that will help you have or get what you ultimately want. Ah, hi. Test score admission to the goal of the school of your dreams, and so what? We want to talk about is that middle part of the concentric circles. You do some soul searching about your identity, which, by the way, is an important exercise. I mean, that's the type of thing you're going to have to write about in your application essays. Almost certainly. So. It's important that you do know who you are, and once you do, what actions will lend itself to, and those actions are the habits. And so that's what I want to talk about. And the rest of today's show the Five habits, the five success habits that if you implement them into your studying, I guarantee there would just be a natural success that derives from it. Just like just like James clears concentric circles flowing from the inside out, success will be inevitable. So with that, let's look at habit number one. Number one is to read more, developed the habit of reading, increased the amount that you are reading. It will pay dividends for you on testing. Now I know this doesn't sound sexy. It's not something that I'm sure you're really excited about. But the reality is every standardized test. I'm aware of the test you are studying for. I guarantee. If you improve your reading, your reading comprehension, it will serve you well. Certainly if your test has a straightforward reading comprehension component, which it almost certainly does. But even if it doesn't your ability to understand what math questions are asking, what logic questions are asking, it all comes from reading the English language. So my recommendation, my suggestion of a habit to develop now is to increase the amount that you're reading by 30 extra minutes per day. Now that might sound like a lot, but that is based on my personal experience, my experience working with countless students and especially if you are not naturally a reader. Maybe you weren't a reader is a kid. Maybe you don't read a lot for pleasure, and you have some making up to do. You know, at the end of the day, they're obviously strategies that you can learn and that we can teach to help you improve your reading comprehension and getting right answers. You know, even if you're not inherently a great reader, but you can make up for lost time by increasing the amount that you're reading now, 30 extra minutes a day definitely adds up between now and test A and if English isn't your first language and there's really no getting around, the fact that the standardized test you are going to be taking is conducted in English, and so your ability to understand the English language is important, and one way to improve that is to read Maur. Now what you read matters as well, right? If you're gonna increase your reading. We're not talking about reading romance novels or mystery novels. I mean, that's fun. I'm all about pleasure reading, but ultimately, the reason you are increasing the amount that you're reading is to try to prepare yourself for testing and then, obviously your academic career beyond. And so you want to start by reading as many riel former passages that you can from whatever standardized test you're taking, You know, seek out the official guidebooks and review some of those former passages and then beyond that, seek things that are outside your comfort zone. One of the things I hear from my students all the time is they do okay on passages that they're interested in, or maybe even know something about. Although caution there you don't want to bring any outside knowledge into answering reading comprehension passages. So sometimes it's actually better if you don't know anything about the passage being presented. But let's say you're confronted with a passage that you view on a topic to be boring or you just don't understand it because it's about science or archaeology or something that you just really don't know much about. You don't care much about, but you still have to understand what it is saying. Well, prepare for that by seeking out periodic ALS journals, academic texts on those types of topics that are likely to appear on test day and that you don't know a whole lot about now, Right? So we're talking about dense material, the types of passages that you will see on test Day Go read National Geographic or Scientific America or foreign affairs magazines, those type of academic journals that have some fairly sophisticated writing and that may require you to actually stretch your mind to understand what is going on, because that is exactly what you are goingto have to do on test day. So developed the habit of reading, and by the way, I think you'll be glad you did, because reading just makes life more interesting. It's a great habit toe have lifelong Alright, so that brings us to a habit Number two, which is you want to develop the habit of learning and practicing daily? Yes, Daly, I understand you may be trying to fit your prep into the nooks and crannies of your life. You're busy, but doing something consistently on a daily basis is crucial. You need to do something to move the ball forward to improve every single day. If you listen to our first episode, you heard me talk about it as consistency, one of the three crucial keys to success on your standardized test. So if you haven't listened to that episode, I encourage you to go back, listen to it downloaded. I think you'll benefit from it. But what should you be consistent in doing, learning and practicing daily? You need to be improving your skills for whatever question types are tested on your standardized test every single day. Now the mistake a lot of students make you know, I actually just had a student recently Call me. I get a lot of phone calls along these lines, and he said, You know, I've been studying. I've been trying. I've been working hard and I just took X y or Z exam, and I just didn't do very well. What do I need to do? Can you help me write? And my answer is always Yes. I'm sure we can help you, but tell me a little bit about what you have been doing. Well, you know, I do dozens of practice problems every single day. Okay, that's great. Tell me about your practice sessions. Right. But all the person has been doing is practice and notice. I say you need to develop the habit of learning and practicing daily. Imagine you're tryingto learn to play golf, and all you do is go to the driving range. You get a bucket of balls and you just hit a bucket of balls. You had 100 balls every single day, and you wonder why you're not getting any better. Well, what if you are doing the wrong thing over and over and you literally have nobody to correct you? You don't have a coach. You don't have anybody teaching you, showing you the right way to swing. You could hit a CZ many balls as you want, but all you're doing is in graining, bad habits. So that's part of what I told that student who called. And I tell all students who have a similar question or concern. And what I would tell you now is is you need a feedback loop you need to be practicing. But are you practicing the right things? Have you learned the best practice is the best strategy? Is the best methodologies for each of the question types and topic areas tested on your exam? And then when you do practice, do you have a debriefing session? Do you go back through your practice questions? Figure out where you went wrong, what you could do differently the next time how to improve. That's what you want to be doing on a consistent basis. And that actually brings me to habit number three, which kind of builds on the idea of learning and practice daily and have it. Number three is you need to learn to take pains that that's what I call it. I'm gonna explain what I mean by that, but it's something that actually takes the development of a habit because it's not normal. It might not feel natural to you in terms of how you think about practicing and preparing effectively. Here's what I mean by taking pains. The mistake a lot of students make and I have certainly been guilty of this myself is you're working a set of practice problems, for example, and you're working on a question. You get stuck and what do you do at that point of getting stuck? Most of us and I know you're guilty of it. I know I have been guilty of it. Like I said myself, you quickly do what you flip to the back of the book, and you start to read the answer explanation rather than persevering, trying to figure it out yourself. Tryingto have your own breakthrough rather than taking pains, and that is the habit you need to develop. You need to force yourself in those moments not to panic, not to throw in the towel, not to give up and say, I can't figure it out, but instead to take extra pains before looking at the answer explanation. Maybe that means going back and re watching an instructional video. But whatever it is, take those pains because that is where true learning happens, right? You need to unlearn the bad habit of giving up too early and develop this new habit off taking pains. And it is hard. It's not natural. It's so easy just to flip to the back. And you might have even convinced yourself that. Yeah, but that's how I learned, right? If I read the answer explanation that I'll know how to do it next time, maybe. But you know what really will help you have the breakthroughs figuring it out on your own, because when you take the mental gymnastics and you go back and you break through and you have that moment where the synapses fire and understanding happens, that is what is gonna pay dividends. When you see future questions that are similar, you're more likely to remember what to do and know how to answer those types of questions the next time around. If you have had the breakthrough yourself, rather than reading some textbooks explanation of how to do it, Okay, so we're going to read more. We're goingto learn and practice daily. We are going to practice the right way by taking pains. Which brings us to habit number four which is to take a full length practice test every week. That is a habit you need to develop for as long as you are preparing for your standardized test. Now, if you run out of test, maybe you can't keep up with once a week, depending on how many weeks you have before before test day. But the point is, you need to be regularly taking full length practice tests. You certainly shouldn't go more than two weeks at a time without checking in and taking a practice test. Think about your pro sports teams, any team that you watch that you're a fan of. Even if you're not a sports fan, that's OK. Just kind of go with me here. Teams practice, they practice practice, practice. They practice all week long. And then what happens? It's game day game days when you check in to see if the practice you have been doing has been paying off. If you show up and play against another team and they beat you, you've got to go back to the drawing board. But guess what? At least you know what toe work on now, and even if you then play a game and you win. Here's what you do. You say, Hey, I must be doing something right. Let me keep doing some of what is working. And then I can still continue to work on some of my weaknesses so I can win the next game and the next game. And the same thing applies for your preparation for your exam. You practice practice practice, right? See? Habit number two. So you're learning and you're practicing. But how are you going to know if you are improving if you are doing the right things? If it is translating to success on test day, that's by taking full length practice tests. So schedule it in maybe every Saturday morning for the next few weeks or months or however long you're studying for your exam. You just schedule say, Hey, you know what? I'm getting up Saturday morning. I'm getting a good night's sleep on Friday because my real test is gonna be on a Saturday morning and I'm just gonna take one every single Saturday. And the benefit, of course, is it does provide that benchmark to make sure that you're on track. It's also where you're gonna hone your time management. It's where you just get the opportunity to experiment and apply some of what you are studying. So it's absolutely crucial. All right, we've come to the fifth and final habit, and this is the habit. That's probably the most unorthodox, the one that you're probably not expecting. But it's also my favorite. And it might just be the most important habit you develop between now and testing that will pay dividends. And it is this you need to develop the habit of expressing gratitude. Do it daily. Okay, I know what you're thinking, what his gratitude have to do with getting math questions right on test day or something like that. It has more to do with your mindset because the mindset you take into the testing center absolutely influence in. It's an impacts your performance. Consider these two different types of test takers tested. Your number one is negative and ungrateful and really just lamenting the whole process. Oh my gosh, I had to spend so much time and money and it's such a burden. I have to do this. I wish I could just not have to take this examine all. Why do I have to take this exam. Woe, Woe is me, right? And I don't even feel prepared and I'm just not going to do very well. Do you think that mindsets gonna serve him or her on testing? No, of course not. And contrast ID with test taker number two who is positive and optimistic and grateful for the opportunity. What a privilege it is for me to be ableto thio goto school to go to graduate school or college. I can't wait to get there. Okay, I'm gonna knock this test out of out of the park. I have put in the work I have put in the effort. I am confident I am ready. I know I am going to do well with a big smile on his or her face does as he or she walks into the testing center. Which test taker do you think is going to do better? Obviously the 2nd 1 it's so important. You know, the way I start every single day as I get up, I spend some quiet time. I do some praying, some meditation, and I count my blessings literally. I set my mind and my focus on something that I am grateful for There are always challenging things. There are things about my day that I don't like their things that are happening in my life, in my family that I wish were different or better at various times, obviously. But there's always something to look at in a positive light, something to be happy for, thankful for, to be grateful for. And I find that if I set my sights on that first thing during the day, it totally alters the trajectory of the day. I just have a better day when I take the time to do that, so I encourage you to do the same thing. Maybe you start to keep a gratitude journal on. The last thing you do before you go to bed at night is to think back over the day and just find one thing that you are grateful for. And maybe you do it with respect to your standardized test every day. Think about how grateful you are to have gotten a question right that you previously weren't able to answer or you're thankful and grateful for a tutor or a friend or a video that helped you have a breakthrough figure out what you are grateful for and take that into the testing center, and I know it will alter the trajectory. Might sound a little weird, but what do you have to lose? You have absolutely nothing to lose. And what if it just works? It'll certainly put a smile on your face. It will make your life better, so there's no reason not to give it a try. All right, so there you have it. The Five habits, the five study habits, the five success habits that, if you implement them, right, think about the bee. Do have principle. Just kind of file that away in the back of your mind. Who do you want to be? What actions, What habits will follow from that, and you will have what you want. Ah, high score on test day, and I'd actually love to hear from you. Email me. I'll put my email address again in the show notes. Tell me, which of these habits did you find most interesting, or do you think will help you the most? Or where do you have any questions about anything we've talked about? Certainly reach out to me. I am here to help but I am excited for you and the outcomes you will experience as you implement these 56 s for today's from the mailbag segment. We have a question from Ling Ling is one of my students and she's been following along with the course syllabus, and she has gotten to the point where her first practice test is assigned. And here's what she said. Or here's what she asked, she said, You know, I'm just not feeling all that confident with the math yet. We really haven't covered everything. Should I actually still take the first assigned practice test? Now, this is a question that you may have a CZ. Well, it's natural to feel that way. And ling, my answer to you and my answer to the rest of you who may be wondering the same thing is yes. Yes, go ahead and take it. I have seen it done both ways. I have seen it where you take regular practice tests while you are studying. By the way, go back and revisit habit number four, right, So you kind of already know my answer. We have already talked about this a little bit with habit number four that you should be taking regular practice tests, but I have seen it where students do the regular practice test. And then I've also seen it where they don't where they wait until the very end. And then they maybe try to cram a couple of practice tests before test day or worse. They actually don't ever take any fallings practice tests before showing up on test day. A huge mistake. And I just know from experience that students who do the former who actually take regular practice test throughout get better results. They just are better prepared on test day. So that's definitely my recommendation to you. And I would also say this Ling it ling and anybody else who might be feeling that way. It is totally normal to be scared about your first practice test as human beings. We don't like to fail. We don't like to put ourselves in position to fail or to have anything less than success, but I have a spoiler alert for you. Your first practice test is not going to be good. You're not going to get a good score on that first practice test. If you do good for you send me a message because I would love to hear about the norm, even for really smart people, even for people who end up getting great. Final scores often struggle with that first practice test because, as you pointed out, Ling, you haven't actually seen everything yet. You haven't learned all the question types. Your time management was probably off there so many things that are kind of stacked against you. And yet it is still useful and helpful exercise. We've already talked about a few of them. It's important to kind of get those benchmarks. It gives you an opportunity to apply what you have learned, and you will have learned something by the time you sit for that first practice test. I know certainly in my course is a lot of times I teach some important on standard strategies right out of the gate, and so you can already start to apply. Those and the practice problems themselves are useful. One of the things you should absolutely do either with a coach, a tutor or even on your own, is always to review your practice test. So even if you bomb that first practice test, guess what you know, have dozens of practice problems that you can go back review. Look at the ones you got wrong, and then avoid those same mistakes the next time around. So lots of reasons to go ahead and take the practice test as assigned and whatever course we're taking or if you're studying on your own again, go back to habit number four. Take regular practice times Way are the end of episode number two of the Dominate Test Prep podcast. I hope you have found it helpful. I hope you are excited about these habits and ready to implement them. Which brings me to my action item for you. As always, we conclude with an action item. Right? Knowledge without action is useless. Essentially. And so what should you be taking action on? Well, obviously you can take action on any of the habits we discussed, but I would suggest as an action item that you simply pick something good to read and start reading it. All right, So that is it. We will see you next time. Definitely. Make sure you click the subscribe button so that you're alerted when we publish our next show. Lots of really interesting topics. Guess that I'm going to be interviewing in the queue so you won't want to miss those. Check the show notes for any links that we talked about in today's episode. And with that go out, have a great week, study hard and prepare to dominate your standardized test. Take care, everyone.