I almost gagged.


The year was 1988, I was in my basement, and I had just squirted an eyedropper full of evil-tasting liquid into my mouth, under my tongue.

Don't worry - no laws were being broken. But because I had spent $139 on the "Cybergenics Bodybuilding System", I was hiding it from my parents, who probably wouldn't have approved of the purchase, especially the "steroid replacement system" tagline. The goal was simple: get huge.

So for the next few months, I took a cornucopia of different vitamin pills and liquids while maintaining a strict diet and putting myself through brutal workouts. (I still remember almost falling down the stairs at my high school since my legs were so sore).

However, I eventually stopped the program after one thing had become abundantly clear: I looked no different than when I'd begun. 

Unfortunately, the world is full of companies offering easy answers to your problems. 

Want to lose weight? Take a pill. Want a degree? Get it online. Want a lover? There's an app (actually a thousand apps) for that.

Test prep is no different. Most companies want you to believe that getting ready for the SAT, ACT, or GRE is easy, convenient, and maybe even fun.Here are some real-life examples:

1. A popular test prep company in San Diego claims that the SAT and ACT are now “95% the same” and offers a class preparing students for both tests at once.

2. A popular GRE app claims to be a “complete solution” and that it’s “easy to learn everything you need to know” just by watching their videos.

3. Actually... the entire test prep industry was founded on the perception that these tests can be “cracked” one you learn their “secrets”.

Just like anything in life, test prep DOES come naturally to some people. But for most, it doesn’t. The majority of people need to:

1. Talk through what they’re thinking when they work on a question with someone more experienced. (A simple step-by-step process doesn’t always work.)

2. Spend time analyzing mistakes. (What tricked you? What’s the takeaway? What’s going to make you recognize this type of question next time?)

3. Build foundational skills. (Having trouble with reading or math? You may need to become a better reader and learn or re-learn lots of math - not just learn tips and tricks for the test.)

The Bottom Line

Tough answers are never popular. But do the hard things now, and life has a way of getting easier later.

Questions For Discussion

1. What's the weirdest thing you did to get in shape during high school?

2. Did it pay off? Explain.

3. What's an "easy solution" you've spent time and money on?

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