In Geoff Colvin’s book Talent is Overrated, he writes, “In field after field, when it comes to centrally important skills…people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with less experience.” Ultimately, experience alone does not equate to expertise. 

This may be a hard fact of life to accept for those that believe that they will naturally continue to grow and succeed at skills because they are simply dedicating the time to them. Research shows that just putting in the time to improve your performance is not enough, you need deliberate practice

What is the Deliberate Practice Method?

Deliberate practice is a term that shows up in biographies of almost every elite performer, and for good reason. Deliberate practice is a method that can be used to improve performance at anything, from test-taking to career skills, based on constant feedback and consistently working at the edge of your abilities. 

Matt Larriva is the founder of Powerful Prep, an elite test-prep program with the highest published point gains. Using deliberate practice, he works with students to effectively prepare for college entrance exams through a more purpose-driven and focused practice.

“The way to become very good at something — test-performance in our case — is not by taking tests and hoping for an improvement through repetition,” offers Larriva. “Instead, the way to score perfectly on the SAT is by figuring out exactly what question types  you’re missing on exactly what sections, at what point in the test, at what level of focus or distraction, and then to find a method to solve those questions and then repeat that until you cannot make a mistake.”

While this method of working to improve a skill set can be difficult, it is highly effective with visible progress and measurable success that quickly become their own motivators and rewards.  So why are more people not using the deliberate practice method? 

“Deliberate practice is hard,” states Colvin, in Talent is Overrated. “It hurts. But it works. More of it equals better performance and tons of it equals great performance.”

The Pillars of Deliberate Practice

Outlined by Anders Ericsson, psychologist and author of Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, there are seven gold standards involved in mastering deliberate practice. 

  1. Start with a specific goal. This allows you to set step-by-step objectives to track for progress over days, weeks, months and even years. 
  2. Find an expert coach. Having a coach and advisor can help provide accurate feedback as well as mentorship. 
  3. Absorb and consistently learn from feedback. Understand that feedback is there to help you perform better and reach your goal. This information will help you adjust your behavior and continue to grow your skillset. 
  4. Learning in your discomfort zone. While stepping outside of your comfort zone can be frustrating and scary, it’s necessary to continue challenging and improving yourself. This may be harder than you anticipate, as failure will occur, but understanding that it is needed to reach the next level will contribute to satisfaction as you progress. 
  5. Strong foundations matter. Know what skills you have and how they need to be built out. By working to maximize what you already have for a basis of learning can help you unlearn bad habits and form good ones. 
  6. Stay focused and involved. The deliberate practice method is obviously deliberate. Anyone that is working to build their skills has to do so actively and be willing to put in the dedicated time. 
  7. Mental representations. Visualization is key. Having a visual representation of your goal in mind, monitoring it and comparing it with the decisions you make will ensure that you are able to measure and reference where you stand in reaching your goals. 

Alleviating Stress with Deliberate Practice

In terms of test-prep, deliberate practice is highly beneficial as it helps students maximize their test scores while focusing strategically on what they need to study. This can help alleviate study time along with the stress that often comes along with it. 

“It alleviates the stress of preparation because the prep is so focused. We have some of the shortest sessions in the industry because we read the research early on and confirmed that attention levels deteriorated negatively past 90-minutes,” states Larriva. “By keeping the in-person time tight, we reduced the anxiety over long lessons.”

Larriva also adds that they work to help students reduce stress by eliminating the addition of unnecessary studies to student’s mountains of regular schoolwork with focused and manageable homework. “Finally, by the time students are taking the actual test, they’ve seen the material so many times, and when necessary, we’ve worked through performance anxiety and test stress issues. So by the time students are testing, it’s largely second nature.” 

Ultimately, reaching your top goals and growing your skillset continually is not easy, it requires hard work, feedback and the ability to step outside of your comfort zone to challenge yourself. But, being able to focus on what you are doing and deliberately practice on what you’re working to improve, you can reach the goal you are setting for yourself. By using the deliberate practice method, anyone —whether a high school student preparing for the SAT or someone trying to advance in their career skills —can learn how to maximize their time to succeed.