Everybody knows that old chestnut about practice making perfect, but most of us don’t understand how much more true mastery really requires. Time and commitment move the needle on performance, but massive improvement demands more than effort alone; doing the same thing over and over won't lead to different results.

When you imagine the kind of practice professional athletes and performers undertake to ensure elite performance when the pressure is on, you probably envision deliberate practice. This kind of practice revolves around highly structured activities designed to achieve consistent, incremental improvement leading to long-term mastery. For example, running around a track hour after hour qualifies as practice, but doing the same thing with the goal of shaving a second off your time every day is deliberate practice.

What does deliberate practice have to do with the SAT and ACT? The same thing it has to do with success at the highest level of any competitive endeavor: everything.

The primary purpose of any test preparation program is to improve scores. Preparing for a simple history test may require little more than reading a textbook and studying notes. However, standardized exams like the SAT and ACT present a veritable gauntlet of academic and technical challenges. Focus, time management, and test savvy contribute as much to your score as do reading, writing, and quantitative skills. You cannot simply study your way to your best score...you need to practice.

In a world where everyone seems to have access to video lectures or cheap classes, perfect practice tests in conjunction with expert coaching are your secret weapon to outperforming both your competition and your own previous scores. How can you bring your practice tests as close to perfection as possible?

1. TEST MATERIAL

Prioritize official exams released by the test makers. The Official ACT Prep Guide and The Official SAT Study Guide are perennial bestsellers for a reason.

2. TIMING

Take timed practice sections and full tests (strictly following any accommodations you may receive) at the same approximate time of day the official tests are administered. Bonus points for getting someone to proctor you.

3. SETTING

Avoid noisy, active spaces, and seek out classroom settings that simulate your test day environment. Even better are practice opportunities that have you testing with other students.

4. ATTITUDE

Just taking the test is not enough to move forward to your very best scores. Commit to extracting every bit of experiential value from every exam. Every simulated test is another opportunity to practice strategies, manage timing, develop judgment, and build the endurance and focus you'll desperately need for peak performance when it counts; make the most of it.

If your goal is to earn the kind of scores that separate you from the rest of the pack, taking exams that incorporate these four pillars of test perfection will definitely move you in the right direction. Take your preparation to the next level by working with an expert teacher or tutor to review your performance after every test. No matter how good you are at the start, the combination of perfect practice and expert coaching is the way to become not just better, but your very best!