You’ve been studying for the SAT, but every time you take a practice test lately you get a similar score. Or your ACT score was progressing for a while, but now you can’t seem to break into the next score range. As time goes on, you feel increasingly frustrated.
This is a very common problem!
One of the most critical moments in a student’s score evolution is the emergence of plateaus.
As you begin to improve your content understanding and strengthen your test-taking skills, your score and your improvement get temporarily stuck at a few well-defined score ranges.
As Exam Prep Coordinator at MEK, I’ve learned exactly why and when these plateaus commonly occur and have leveraged my analysis to help students overcome being stuck and breakthrough to the next level of scores.
Now I’m sharing a few essential tips that you can use to have your breakthrough moment!
Why do score plateaus happen?
In an ideal world, your SAT or ACT score would progress with linear growth. The longer and more you practiced, the more your score would improve. On every single practice test you took, your score would get a little bit better until you reached your final goal.
Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work this way, and students face plateaus for many reasons. Here are the most common:
#1. Bad habits
Anytime you complete SAT Prep material whether it’s a practice test, practice questions, or other supplementary work, you have to give it maximum effort. If you don’t treat every question as if it counted, your score will remain stuck in a certain score range.
You must create good habits that prevent you from making a careless error, reading the question incorrectly, or falling for a misleading answer choice. Otherwise, every time you take a practice test, you are just repeating the same bad habits. And your score will plateau.
#2. Practice Without Purpose
Targeted practice makes perfect, but purposeless practice is useless. (Can I trademark this saying? I came up with it, I swear.)
It means that when you practice you must have a specific goal in mind. What are you targeting? What type of problem are you trying to get better at? Are you trying to improve your time management, your ability to solve linear functions, or your accuracy on punctuation questions?
If you’re just mindlessly completing practice material, you score will not improve!
#3. Not knowing what you don’t know
Often scores become stuck because students aren’t sure what their weaknesses are or how to focus on them.
MEK has you covered here. We guide you to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, starting with an initial SAT evaluation test that breaks down your performance on every single topic that SAT covers. (If you would like to take an SAT evaluation test, contact us here.)
#4. Lack of periodic self-reflection
Your score’s journey is just that – a journey. It is crucial to self-reflect on your evolving strengths and weaknesses and adjust your study routine accordingly.
At this point, you should notice a pattern in these reasons. Your score will get stuck if you are passively studying. You can study for months on end, but if you are doing so aimlessly and half-hardheartedly, your score will not breakthrough to the next level!
#5. Need more time
However, for some students, the problem is simply the need for more time.
You need time to go through the maturation phase and enough practice iterations to solidify ideas, concepts, and strategies.
In the process, your mind is gearing up to accept the next push. Believe it will come and work towards it. Don’t run away from your plateau, embrace it.
I know it sounds weird, but maybe be happy that you are at a plateau, since that means you improved from a lower score tier. Let MEK help you create a strategy to spend as little time as possible in your “plateau zone” and make your breakthrough.
How to breakthrough to the next score range
Periodic score stagnation occurs at well-defined score ranges.
For example, a student with a SAT Math score of 550 displays a unique skill character, which the student can overcome with effort and targeted guidance.
Once that student reaches the next score tier of 620~650, the student’s skill character changes, and the student must re-prioritize his or her strategies based on evolving strengths and weaknesses to have the next breakthrough.
Here are some key tips to help you reach your breakthrough moment:
Tip #1. Class lectures are key
If you are part of our SAT Prep program, your class lectures are chock-full of invaluable and proven strategies.
Take good notes. Participate. Ask questions. Ask questions. It’s the best time to rectify your confusions, learn the test, and make your next breakthrough.
Tip #2. Mindset and Effort
The higher your score, the more effort is required to push to the next level. Tailor your effort based on your expectation (and vice-versa).
Tip #3. Smart study strategy
Craft a weekly study plan. It has to be based on your individual score, current skills, and areas of weakness. The more strategic you are about your studying, the more your score will improve quickly and drastically.
Tip #4. Comprehensive/targeted practice
Treat every practice or testing opportunity like the real thing! You cannot have a breakthrough unless you give all your practice maximum effort!
Tip #5. Self-reflection and self-assessment
A skill weakness you had in the past is a weakness you have now, right?
A past assignment is a forgotten assignment, right?
Keep track of your strengths, weaknesses, and skills and polish them repeatedly. You shouldn’t have the same weaknesses from week to week. Target those weaknesses, eliminate them, and then move on to the next area you need to focus on.
Tip #6. Don’t overdo it
Study smart and efficiently.
As you navigate the jungle, don’t wildly swing your sword at everything you see to clear space. You will get tired and sleepy. Make swift, necessary cuts.
A Note about COVID-19
The current COVID-19 situation has put many students in an unfortunate limbo. The June SAT has been postponed, AP has switched formats, and it’s uncertain whether the June ACT will remain open.
However, these delays in testing means that the remaining part of the spring is the PERFECT time to break out of your current plateau and make your next (or several next) breakthroughs.
Even if you are taking your standardized tests in August or beyond, this is not the time to slack off.
In fact, this is the time to take advantage of the current situation.
Study hard. Keep pushing. MEK is with you.