Children and more mature students typically differ in their response to getting a question incorrect. For younger children, and especially for self-absorbed teenagers, getting answers wrong can too easily be interpreted as some kind of negative personal message (e.g. “I’m dumb”, “there’s something wrong with me”, etc.) and it becomes a negative frustrating experience.
Getting questions wrong
For more mature, self-aware learners, folks who are emotionally content and comfortable with themselves, a much different perspective becomes available. Every mistake, every wrong answer, is an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. The truly excellent student lives by the very high standard: absolutely never make the same mistake twice. That requires incredible perseverance, but even falling short of that, each wrong answer is a chance to improve, to clarify some necessary concept of which you previously were unclear.
Think of how grateful you would be if, before some important event, by chance you happened upon a mirror when you have a smudge of something on your face: you can wipe that smudge off and substantially improve your appearance before the important event. In a metaphorical way of viewing the situation, every question you get wrong is such an opportune mirror, a chance to look at yourself and improve yourself.
The design of Magoosh study plans
Our study plans are designed with this in mind. We have students jump into mixed content questions right away, well before they have a chance to complete all the Magoosh video lessons. One reason is — of course, the GRE itself will throw nothing but mixed content at you, and we want you to get comfortable with this “gear-switching” as early in your study process as possible. Furthermore, we know this will mean students, on average, will get many questions wrong at the beginning, and we believe this is a good thing. Obviously, we are not trying to punish students. Rather, we know that making mistakes, and consciously reflecting on these mistakes, is exactly what will prime our students’ minds for the content of the video lessons. By the time a student gets to Concept X in the 47th video lesson, that student won’t think, “Why do I have to know this?” Rather, ideally that student will remember the problem he got wrong earlier, and will have an “aha!” moment as the new idea makes everything click.
It takes a good deal of confidence and emotional security to adopt this attitude —- to look beyond the frustration of getting questions wrong, and to embrace, with courage and optimism, the opportunity for self-improvement implicit in each mistake.
There’s a fantastic story about Thomas Edison. Apparent, he and his team were working on the electric light bulb, and the hard part was finding the right material for the filament, a material that wouldn’t melt or burn out at the high temperature required. They methodically tried material after material with no success, month after month. At one point, the foreman came to Edison utterly exhausted, frustrated, and ready to throw in the towel, saying, “We’ve tried a thousand different materials, and nothing works. All these months of work have been a complete failure.” Edison immediately responded, “A failure? Nonsense! We now know a thousand ways that it doesn’t work!” Of course, it was precisely that optimism and confidence in the face of no apparent success that allowed Edison and his team eventually to produce the first working electric light bulb —- the archetypal symbol of a good idea!
In the face of an apparent lack of success, it’s very hard to maintain this level of courageous optimism. It takes a very strong and secure individual who can say, “I’ve gotten 200 GRE questions wrong so far, and that’s great, because from those mistakes I have learned 200 new concepts which I can use!” It’s such an extraordinary perspective that it may even strike some readers as absurd.
This perspective most certainly is extraordinary. Here, I would remind readers of the Great Law of Mediocrity: if you approach things in the same way that everyone else does, you will wind up with results that pretty much look much the same as everyone else’s results. If you want to stand out, you must be a standout. If you want extraordinary results, you need an extraordinary perspective. If you want Edison-like success on the GRE, it will take an Edison-like attitude. My friends, wherever you are in your GRE preparation, that is exactly the kind of success I would wish for you.