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It’s not about studying more. It’s about finding a way to study better. Image Source

A perfect test score isn’t always a good thing.

I know… I know… it feels pretty damn good to ace a test. I certainly can’t say I don’t get that same feeling. There is absolutely nothing more that you could have done right on the test. It means you understood everything well. You didn’t even make simple little mistakes. You’ve done as good as you can possibly do on the test.

A perfect test score can feel really good and I don’t want to take that away from you but what does a perfect test score even mean anyway?

One perfect test score won’t get you into a better college (well… maybe on the SATs or equivalent tests.) One perfect score usually won’t decide the final fate of your grade in the course. That’s particularly true when compared to a 99. The difference between an almost perfect score and a perfect one means almost nothing to your future.

When you get a perfect score you should hesitate for a moment because it’s not always a positive sign. Despite how good it feels, it can be a sign of a serious problem in your study routine. (This is particularly true if you’re not always scoring perfect.)

I’m going to be making some points that sound like I’m trying to bum you out but I have slightly different goals. I’d much rather help you:

  • Appreciate your 95+ scores dramatically more.
  • Study more efficiently
  • Not waste any more time than you have to.

The reality is that a perfect test score could be a sign that you’re wasting some serious time.

The Time Sink Problem

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There is only so much time in your day to study. Efficiently prioritizing that time is essential. Image Source

Imagine you’re capable of getting a perfect score on a college exam with “only” 10 hours of studying.

Getting yourself to study for 10 hours is pretty tough. That’s more true if you don’t just cram those 10 hours in the night before. It requires at least a few good decisions about time management on your part. Imagine you could get a perfect score with ten hours.

Naturally, no one knows how long they need to study to get a perfect score on a test. The test is a bit of a mystery. A student looking to get a perfect score has to guess how long they need to study in order to get that perfect score. The guess should be based on previous tests.

If you end up guessing that you need to study for 30 hours to get a perfect score on a that same test then what’s your score going to be?

It’s still going to be perfect.

Despite studying 3 times longer than you had to, you still had the same score. Essentially, you wasted 20 hours of studying. You only needed 10 hours but you lost 30.

That’s 20 hours that could have been used to get you a perfect score in two equal tests. Instead of having one perfect score you could have had 3 of them.

A perfect score can feel good but it gives you absolutely no feedback to the amount of time you need to be studying. That means you’re probably wasting time. There is only one perfect score amount of time to study and unlimited too much studying. To get a perfect score you need to study the perfect amount of time or too much.

95 to 99 is virtually the same as a 100 for most students but 100 comes without the knowledge that you’re investing the right resources into studying.

But… I know… you’re probably thinking a few points can’t mean that much to your study routine. Sure, you don’t want to go nuts and vastly overestimate the time you need to study but it’s not that bad, right?

Why Perfect Tests Are A Waste Of Time

Can't get a perfect test score with this.
Sometimes a perfect score is less fun too. Image Source

This is a difficult idea to conceptualize but it can change the way you think about studying.

The first point on any particular test is the easiest.

The last point on any particular test is the hardest.

There is a fundamental difference between these two points because the first point you earn on a test can come from any question on the test.

To score the final point on a test you need to know the answer to one specific question.

I think this is easiest understood with an example:

Imagine you’re being given a 100 question test with one point for each correct question.

Your teacher gives you a study guide that includes 1000 different things you should learn for the test.

To make the test even easier, imagine the teacher plops a list of the 1000 different answers from your study guide directly on the test. You just need to connect the right answer to the right question. A little bit of cramming can get you through this simple a test.

(This is an unrealistic example to help clarify the point. In reality there are usually thousands and thousands of potential things you need to learn for a test. You also can’t simplify every question as equally valuable. In reality, this point is usually more extreme than my example.) I’m also simplifying some of the math here.

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Okay… but really… good work for getting the good score. Now what can you do better? Image Source

To score your first point on this test, you need to know the correct answer to 1 out of 100 questions. Statistically, to score that first point on the test you probably only need to memorize 10 of the things on your study guide. If you know 10 of the things on your study guide then you’ll probably know at least one thing on your test.

Imagine you get your first 99 points on the test.

To score your final point on this test, you need to know the answer to 1 out of 1 remaining question. You can’t score that point by answering anything else. The perfect score needs to come from a single remaining question.

You’ve used up 99 of the answers. There are still 901 potential answers but still only one of them will be right. To know you can get this final point you have to know all 901 of the remaining potential answers.

In contrast:

If you had a 98 and wanted to score a 99 then you’d only need to know 451 of the potential answers.

97  to a 98 you’d only need 301.

90 to a 91 you’d only need 91.

You need to know twice as much to score a 100 instead of a 99. That’s how much more difficult getting a perfect test score is in comparison to an almost perfect test score.

You’d need to study twice as much.

For the example I used earlier, by settling for a 99 you could study only 5 hours a week instead of 10. And don’t forget that a non-perfect score actually helps you learn how to study better instead of leaving you guessing whether you studied too much.

But Seriously Though…

Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing :)
Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing 🙂

I’m not saying to dread a perfect test score.

Sometimes, even if you properly manage your study routine, you’ll get a perfect score. A perfect score doesn’t always mean you studied too much. It could also mean:

  • You studied just right.
  • Your teacher threw a softball test.
  • You guessed better than average.
  • Your bribe worked.

Even if you studied too much, it’s not a horrible thing. Sure… you could have invested your time a little better. By investing it in other courses you could score a higher average. It’s a quality problem to have. (Plenty of students can’t start studying in the first place. That’s not your problem.)

Given the choice between studying too much or too little, plenty of people would prefer to study too much. Colleges don’t care if you allocated your time poorly to get your good grades. They do care if you don’t get good grades at all. (Of course, I do have strong opinions around the value of some of this but that’s irrelevant for my point.)

When you get that perfect test score, here is my response.


Now what can you do to make this happen more often?

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s the strategy I used to graduate near the top of my class. The strategies I used are the same ones that I teach on this blog. Please share the content if you found it interesting.

The Perfect Test Score Problem


This is an absolutely essential read for anyone on this blog.

I’m about 4 hours away from something big.

The story began a decade ago when I first started to share my study strategies with other students.

I had figured out the Holy Grail of academic optimization strategies – and every intermediate step to get to it. Using this strategy, I pulled a nearly 4.0 GPA while running a double course load in college – and once I started sharing it.

Students noticed.

Droves of them.

And then teachers noticed.

Most of the teachers that were looking out for their student’s best interest got what I was saying and supported the cause. Others… well… not everyone has the student’s best interest at heart.


Early on (even before Smart Student Secrets,) I started writing for average students.

I knew… I was NEVER one of the “smart kids”. I was mediocre at best. And I knew, if these strategies worked for me then they could work for just about anybody. And that’s who I wanted to connect with.

But… There was a problem…

I built an audience giving these strategies away. Sure…

And I’d get messages from them. And we’d talk. And I’d hear their stories.

I’d hear from A+ students that cut their study time by 90%.

I’d hear from B students that took their grades up to A’s.

I’d hear from teachers that were sharing my strategies with their students.

I’d hear from older students how these strategies changed their life.

I love it. I love introducing these strategies that changed my life to other people.

But there was always this… but…

What about the C students?

What about the D students?

What about the students that are currently failing?

Sure… Some would reach out.. but…

They never followed through… They’d take a small step. They’d sign up. They’d learn some killer strategies. Seeing right there how powerful they were going to be…

And then… life kicks in. They lose sight of their goals.

And it’s gone.


Student’s came to this site to improve their life. They see the possibilities. But then… they move on.

In about 4 hours, I’m going to be introducing something – an email subscriber exclusive – that can help change that.

It’s going to make more Smart Students than at any other time in this site’s history.

If you’re ready to take your academic game to the next level – if you want to see it for yourself.

Write your email in the box. Check the confirmation you want emails. Confirm your email. And see for yourself.

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2 thoughts on “The Perfect Test Score Problem

  • August 2, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    I love that ending. It’s true.

    I feel like people get awfully addicted to the little highs instead of worrying about the big picture.

  • August 1, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Wow… Just like you to get me depressed about my good days. It’s true but bummer.


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