I had this distressing moment last week when I discovered that I was back to square one with my SAT score, despite the fact that I feel like I’m learning, and was certain that my score must be improving as a result.


Turns out feelings aren’t facts!

According to Daniel Willingham, in his article on Why Students Think They Understand — When they Don’t, “familiarity” fools our mind into thinking we know more than we do.

Psychologists distinguish between familiarity and recollection. Familiarity is the knowledge of having seen or otherwise experienced some stimulus before, but having little information associated with it in your memory. Recollection, on the other hand, is characterized by richer associations.

Although familiarity and recollection are different, an insidious effect of familiarity is that it can give you the feeling that you know something when you really don’t.


He says that the feeling of knowing becomes a problem when you have the feeling, without the knowing.  That turned out to be my case, and reminds me that when my kids tell me they are ready for a test, I need to verify!

But on the brighter side, I’m working with Stacey Howe-Lott for the month of May (LOVE), and she has shared interesting insights in the comments of this post.

Debbie, your top line scores are also hiding major progress (functions and slopes, anyone?)  Not to mention you are comparing apples to oranges.  Your testing conditions vary (some times you get interrupted, sometimes you don’t. Some times you do one section at a time, sometimes you do all three sections. Some times you do them in the morning, sometimes late at night.)  It’s almost impossible to compare scores across these wildly varying conditions.

My gut tells me that Stacey is right.  I always say, the progress I’ve made isn’t showing up in my scores……..Yet.

Stacey’s full comments are insightful, and worth taking the time to read.


Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis