Third Commandment: Breathe
Ed Black was a legend. He was a portly guy with a thick handlebar mustache who drove a Harley Davidson and bragged about how he had figured out more digits of the mathematical quantity Pi than anybody else in the world.
When Ed wasn’t off racing his Porsche Spyder in competitions (he even had an actual dead spider in the globe of his stick shift), he sat in his big leather chair in Oldsmar, Florida and chain smoked cigarettes while he welcomed students into his home to teach them to ace the SAT. He was full of offhand remarks, controversial ideas, and self-boasts. Ed let you know how smart he was, or how smart he thought he was.
Regardless of his actual IQ (which must have been pretty high), Ed had a following. Parents of high school students all over the Tampa Bay Area clamored to enroll their kids in his one on one tutoring program. Ed’s strategy was to designate only one single day per month, for intakes. On this day, his phone rang off the hook, and by noon he was completely booked for the entire month.
Ed hired me in the early 2000’s to work for him. Clearly he had more business than he could handle. He quickly trained me to teach the SAT and then I hit the road in my teal Nissan Sentra, driving across the Bay Area with a box of fresh SAT books in my back seat. I was twenty five, a tutor on wheels, the one and only Ed Black protege.
Occasionally I had check-ins with Ed, to get my paycheck and to ask him questions about the test. He would pull out a math question and go through it in blue pen. I sat across from him and watched in silence as he literally wrote out each step very slowly, even steps that he clearly had to know automatically. And all throughout I could hear him breathing heavily, a smoker’s wheeze, and an exhale of breath that came out of his nose like the sound of steam. Watching Ed, I marveled: “Why is he writing out all these steps? Why is he working so slowly? Clearly he knows that 21 divided by 7 equals 3. Must he write that down?”
Ed was probably a master at test taking, if such a thing exists. And masters of tests have to be extremely careful. I bring up the memory of Ed (he has since passed away) because he taught me this golden rule:
Test Taking is not about being some kind of genius. Yeah you have to know stuff. But more than that, you have to be careful.
Now, it’s easy to just say: be careful. But how do you do it?
I have worked with countless students who are bursting with frustration. They say: “Why do I keep making all these careless errors!” They get so mad at themselves.
This is not something that is easy to correct. You have to change the whole way you are approaching the test. Like with any bad habit, you first have to admit that you have a problem. That takes some humility.
And then you have to get in your car, whatever make and model you may have, and take a new road.
And this road to being more careful on tests, more consistently precise, is through the BREATH.
Breathing is the most powerful way of getting present. And it is the lack of presence that makes the careless errors PILE UP and our test scores COME DOWN.
If Ed Black hadn’t smoked two packs of cigarettes every day, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed his heavy breathing. But the lesson came through. To reach mastery, you have to be present and breathing every single moment of the test. You just can’t afford to have casual moments.
If you want to read more about a powerful breathing technique that is easy to practice and even bring into the testing room, click here to register and receive a full copy of Satellite Prep’s Ten Commandments of Standardized Test Taking.
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