Academic Tutor: Perfect practice makes perfect

Posted by College Corner on 2/22/13 9:29 AM

describe the imagePractice does not make perfect, Perfect practice makes perfect: The Importance of Deliberate Practice

Whether you are working with an academic tutor, seeking homework help or preparing for a standardized test, the following blog on "deliberate practice" may inform your study skills.

I recently thumbed through the new bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in World That Won’t Stop Taking - - a well researched and stimulating read.  I could wax on about all the things I loved about the book, particularly the parts that made me feel good about the introverted aspect of myself.  Yet, there was one item the author mentioned that I wanted to discuss in today’s blog: deliberate practice.

Susan Cain, the author states that deliberate practice, an important prerequisite for developing expertise, is achieved best without distraction.  She further posits that because introverts value their solitude they are often are in a position to engage in deliberate practice more often than extroverts are – those who are more extrinsically motivated.  While I do not necessarily think that one must have solitude in a externally physical sense to engage in deliberate practice, I do think one must have an ability to get in a zone or solitude of mind in which they can deliberately practice regardless of distraction. 

In the context of academics or test prep, what is deliberate practice anyway? 

I am sure that you could take a pretty educated guess, and say that it is practice done deliberately or with intention.  But what often gets lost in the cliché practice makes perfect is that the quality of practice matters just as much as the quantity of the practice.  In fact, it’s the practice of expertise in something or deliberately practicing to be an expert that eventually leads one to achieve expert-level performance. 

As a tutor, I often have tutoring students who come to me who rushed through a lot of material and spent many hours trying to improve their score on their own by doing lots of ‘practice’ but cannot seem to budge their performance. 

When they come to me for tutoring, and I do an assessment, what I usually ascertain is that while they think they have done their due diligence and looked up the right answers to the questions they missed, they often do not inculcate those lessons into their own practice. 

One of the best and most useful solutions to this problem is to take the pressure of time off at certain points of study and allow yourself to practice perfectly.   As you become better at it, then slowly add the element of time into your deliberate practice. 

For example, as a GMAT tutor: If a section is suppose to be done in 75 minutes, such as the multiple choice sections on the GMAT,  then try the sections in 85 minutes for a week, then try to do them in 80 minutes for a week, and finally try to them in 75 minutes – all the while maintaining your deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice works.  This statement has been corroborated by scientific research, but it does not take a scientist to prove that.  Why do actors and musicians do dress rehearsals, and why do we encourage students to take many diagnostics?  So, that they can have the opportunity to deliberately practice.

Why might deliberate practice be an important prerequisite for the development of competencies and expertise? 

Because when a person is deliberately practicing, s/he is motivated, persistent and completely engaged, physically and mentally, with the task at hand.  The person has channeled all of his/her powers of attention, focus and perception on the particular task and what it requires.  By orchestrating all the things needed to be in the presence of what the task requires, the person who is practicing is much more in a position to not only take in the complexity of the task but to cull those things in his/her brain and body needed to pull the task off.  The person who is engaged in deliberate practice will probably also find it easier to be metacognitive about potential strengths and weaknesses.   


Tags: academic tutor, study skills, homework help, GMAT