A Critical Opportunity
How do you feel when you"re taking a test and get a question about something you don"t know? Your heart rate goes up. You might feel heat in your chest or your temples. If only you had read that chapter more carefully or memorized that formula — but now it seems there"s little you can do. You make up some feeble nonsense in hopes of getting partial credit. Whether this happens to you all the time or almost never, it"s one of the worst feelings you can experience as a student.
It"s also something that you can count on experiencing while taking the SAT. However, on the SAT, this isn"t necessarily a bad thing. It may even be a good thing.
In Japanese, the word for crisis (kiki) also means "critical opportunity." That"s because every crisis can be a turning point. How you handle a crisis can make the difference between disaster and triumph.
At some point on the SAT, you may face a crisis — the anxiety caused by a question you initially think you can"t answer. How you handle this crisis will determine how well you do. (And how you manage anxiety more generally will determine how well you do in lots of different things throughout life.) This book discusses the critical skills you need to do well on the SAT: reading, thinking, and managing anxiety. The challenges on the SAT can initially seem tricky if not impossible. Yet the guidance and suggestions offered here will teach you how to handle the test.
With the SAT, it"s not enough to know the material. To excel on the SAT you must be confident about your ability to read carefully and solve problems — even strange, inscrutable ones — under timed conditions. That"s what makes the SAT so intimidating. You can"t just memorize the material and then regurgitate it; you have to act in the moment. Sure, there are some things you must know for the SAT. In fact, the new SAT is designed to include more content, like a school test. But the SAT will always demand less knowing than the tests you take at school and a lot more figuring out.
That"s where Zen comes in. Zen practice trains us to bring our entire attention to the present moment while releasing the mind"s hold on fragments from the past and future — ideas, worries, fears, and phantoms that can generate an endless stream of anxiety and self-doubt. You can learn how to manage anxiety in order to cultivate and sustain the presence of mind that will yield right answers because you are able in the heat of the moment to figure out even the toughest SAT problems.
As you move through Zen in the Art of the SAT, you"ll first read about the nature of the test and discover how different the SAT is from the tests you are used to taking in school. Once you"re clear about the nature of the test, you"re ready to explore some of the primary obstacles many students face — issues connected with reading and anxiety — and how to overcome them. There are self-assessments that can help you gauge whether your reading habits are up to this challenge and what role anxiety plays in your test taking. There is also information that can help you make a study plan, and there"s a section about parents. (You might want to encourage your parents to read it, too.) And, while the SAT is different from school tests and doesn"t require that you memorize lots of material, there are some things you do need to know such as basic math, some rules of grammar and usage, and ways to approach timed essays. The section called "Some Things You Must Know" covers these basics.
For hundreds of years Zen practitioners have applied mental self-awareness techniques to everything from flower arranging to poetry. This book can help you apply similar ideas to the SAT. Since the test measures your ability to read, focus, and figure things out, sharpening your mental abilities can make a huge difference in your score and in how you feel about the test. As you learn how to ace the SAT, you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself and build your self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, you will discover how you can manage anxiety and turn what initially seems like a crisis into an opportunity. You will learn to do your best on the SAT not through any tricks or secret formulas but rather by getting a firm handle on the workings of your own mind.