It’s just a few days before my wife, my 16 month-old son and I start our Christmas vacation, and we’re spending it the same way we spent Christmas last year: dealing with a sick baby. For those of you non-parents out there, trust me, this is even worse that you imagine. Sickness isn’t fun for anyone, but dealing with a sick baby is especially bad because he can’t communicate with us how we can make him feel better. All he can do is cry and hope that we can discern from that particular blend of shrieks how we could help. Throw in the fact that since he’s not sleeping we’re not sleeping and you’ve got a recipe that does not equal fun.
But being sick at Christmastime is especially bad. And it’s all about expectations. When you’re feeling bad at a time when you expected to feel good, it’s feels especially awful. The difference between expectation and reality is a pretty accurate measure of happiness. If I went into the Christmas season knowing it’s a time when we commonly get sick and not expecting much out of it, I might not have been so disappointed.
In the same vein, I see many students who sabotage their chances of coming out of the test prep process happy by bringing in unrealistic expectations. I see students who expect 99th percentile scores with a moderate amount of effort even though nothing in their transcript suggests that’s at all realistic. At the end of the process, even if they’ve made great strides and accomplished quite a bit they feel as if they have failed.
So how do you avoid that letdown? First, make your goal to do the best job preparing for the test than you can do. That doesn’t sound as daunting as getting a 2300 or a 165 or a 34 or 720, but it’s an extremely high standard. The expectation is that you will do whatever is in your power to prepare and you will spend your study time as well as you possibly can. You gauge success not by the score that comes in the mail, but by how ready you are when you walk into that test room.
When that test score arrives it tells you which doors are open to you, and which doors may not be, but you don’t run the risk of the bubble popping when you realize your dream doesn’t match reality.
Set reasonable goals for yourself, aim to meet them every day, and stretch the next day’s goal a little further. Realistic expectations allow you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Unrealistic goals lead to a feeling almost as bad as being sick at Christmas.