Lori’s Brain

I now devote myself full time to helping children and their families choose and apply to colleges and working with troubled teens. But for 20 years I ran a tutoring and test prep shop. My friends and I, most of whom I met in graduate school, would help students prepare for the SAT. As part of their training, my employees would take the actual SAT on a Saturday morning. I thought it was important for the staff to have the experience of taking the test; I wanted to brag about their scores; and I wanted them to remember questions so I could develop curriculum that accurately reflected actual test content.

In those days, there were 60 questions of the math sections. One of my employees waited until the Wednesday following the test to write down as many questions as she could remember. Immediately after the test, I too had written down as many questions as I had committed to memory. Using sophisticated mnemonic devices and visualization imagery, I was able to remember 11 of the 60 questions.

Lori was able to remember 57 of the 60 questions.

I asked her how she was able to remember so many questions, practically the whole test and all the answers too, both right and wrong. "Do you see the questions after you've left the testing room?"

Lori just smiled. To this day I don't know how she was able to remember 57 out of 60 questions from the math sections of the SAT. Perhaps it goes without saying that she almost got a perfect score. She missed one question on the math and got a 780.

The next semester we were taking a course in Social Psychology and we got together to prepare for the midterm. After four consecutive hours of studying, I was desperate to take a break. I'm as motivated as the next man, but I was pretty sure that I could feel my brain melting in my head. Concerned that my neo-cortex was about to ooze out my ears, I asked Lori if we could maybe take ten minutes off, take a walk or talk about something other than what was going to be on the test. She looked at me as if I had suggested we drink paint.

"Look, I have to go to the bathroom" I cried.

"Let's keep studying," she replied. "There is still a lot of material to cover."

By this point, my little attention deficit brain was exploding like popcorn overflowing a hot pan. I decided to try to change the subject. "But you don't even need to study," I began. "You have a photographic memory." Knowing that I had crossed the line of impropriety, I stumbled on. "Every book is an open book test for you."

Again, Lori just smiled. And went back to reading aloud the lecture notes from another social psych class.

It will come as no surprise that her grade on the midterm was the third highest in the class of intensely motivated, bright graduate students.

Third highest? Yes. Well then what about the other two students, the two who scored higher than Lori and her near perfect memory?

My guess is that the only way to score higher than Lori was to tape record the lectures. Which is exactly what a number of the other students had done. They tape recorded every lecture and then transcribed them. Whether or not those students then memorized the transcriptions like actors in a play, I can't say. But they would have had to had even more perfect information than Lori in order to get a higher score.

What's the take away here? Only that students have to bring their best game to do well in competitive programs. If you're not willing to pay the band, you probably shouldn't plan on getting up to dance. If you're not willing to give your education your best shot, the Loris of the world are going to have you for lunch.

And don't even ask me about the other two students who did better than Lori.

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