Avoiding Test Burnout

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If a student has quality preparation and works hard, then burnout is more-or-less the only factor that could keep them from their goals.  But, just like we have control over receiving quality prep and working hard, we similarly have great control over avoiding test burnout.  If we know how to do so.  Here’s how, but, first, we need to understand why test burnout happens:

 

Why it happens

Contrary to what most people expect, test burnout is not primarily caused by length of prep or amount of work (though those are factors too).  The primary cause of burnout is optimistic (or unrealistic) initial expectations.  Here’s what I mean:

Suppose that you are in reasonable shape and a coach tells you to run a mile.  “Ok,” you say.  When you finish, he tells you, “Ok, now run another mile.”  You are then probably dejected and upset.  You likely protest.  Some would not, or likely could not, run the second mile.

Instead, suppose that same coach initially told you to run two miles.  “Ok, that’s a bit tough,” you say.  You run the two miles.

In both instances, the length of the run was two miles, but the feelings and mental and physical energy in the scenarios are entirely different.  In the first instance, to do what is expected and then be asked to do more, especially the same task again, seems very unfair to anyone.  And, you would pace yourself differently, both mentally and physically, for a one-mile versus two-mile run.

Similarly, students and parents who expect to improve faster and finish earlier than average are setting themselves up for disappointment.  And, the parents and students are setting the student up to burn out.

 

How to avoid burnout in the first place

Because the cause of test burnout is almost always unfulfilled expectations, the solution is to expect to finish later than average. The wisest course is to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario.  If someone tells you to run two miles but then after one mile tells you that you are done, you will be overjoyed!  There is little danger in expecting to work until the end (only that a student would not pace their work well enough, but a tutor would correct that), but there is significant danger and virtually guaranteed burnout if a student is asked to work longer than initially expected.

You know from experience that completing anything and what its resulting quality will be are primarily determined by our mental, rather than physical, will and strength.  The SAT and ACT are no different.  Set your expectations well.  Apply yourself.  You can do this.

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