To benefit and gain an advantage at a time of crisis might seem heartless, but there is no sense in not making the best of a difficult situation. You, your family, and the world will be better off.
It goes without saying that our hearts go out to those who are struggling from this unprecedented pandemic. But, this crisis will be temporary; don’t let it derail your long-term future. This post is about that long-lasting future, and how you can position yourself for it right now.
In 1665, London was in utter panic. The Black Plague was ravaging the city: within 18 months, almost 25% of its population (100,000 people) died. Amidst the epidemic, Trinity College in Cambridge sent students home. Isaac Newton, at the time in his early 20’s and a student there, retreated to the safety of his parents’ home. The next year, in quarantine, is now referred to as his “Year of Wonders”; during this time, he theorized the laws of motion and gravity and invented Calculus, which we use in medicine, engineering, statistics, physics, economics, etc. In so doing, he changed the course of human history.
The take-aways are obvious but still worth pointing out: Make the most of any situation. Continue to improve. Look beyond the current tragedy. Prepare for the rest of your life.
But here’s why doing so is not only beneficial but provides an enormous advantage. Your margin of advantage is greatest when you learn and work while others do not. Here are two charts that illustrate the relative advantage at different times.
But this is not just theoretical. It is backed up by data. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, “Virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school” (p.257-258).
Most of the wealth-education gap is an outcome of gaining a relative advantage while others are not improving. Which makes sense: it’s hard to gain an advantage when everyone is trying.
So what is the lesson for today? Given that most students have little to no school, the same rules of gaining an advantage during summer apply to today: if you want to set yourself up for success, use this time wisely. Working, learning, and improving will help you and increase your ability to help the world.
With respect to the SAT and ACT, most of our families are using this time to do more preparation (just as they do in summer). Because the March and May SATs were canceled (and there’s no confirmation yet, as of 3/22/20, that they will be rescheduled), students went from three SATs at the end of junior year to just one in June. That June test is now three times as important if students aim to hit their score goal by then so that they do not need to prep over the whole summer for the August and October tests.
Similarly, because the April ACT was canceled, the June ACT has become twice as important if students are hoping to finish with their testing by the end of junior year and thereby not have to prep over summer and re-take the exam in September. As we know, performance on a given test day can vary (this post details the three factors that dictate variability in test scores on test day). So students need to be extra prepared so that they will still do well, even if they have a bad day, a test with a bad curve, and/or a test with content that did not fit them as well as other tests. That takes extra preparation, which not everyone will do. To get extra practice in, students can take tests at home, work through books on their own, or meet with their tutor to target individual weaknesses (click here to see what a Summit Prep Skype session looks like — we get the same great results in-person and online).
Quarantine is an advantage for some — but only those who can and do choose to make it an opportunity.