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Well over a decade ago, I worked for a test prep company, teaching students how to improve their score on the GMAT and GRE exams. The most difficult part of the work was teaching people who scored much higher than me on the initial practice exams. It tested my ego.

I did OK on the GMAT. Not enough to get into the top schools, but definitely not enough to overcome no real world work experience and an absolutely horrible academic record. I crawled past the finish line in engineering.

This particular course taught that there is value in having a system, even if you’re already starting with a very high score. It did seem to hold. Students who were already doing well did even better if they absorbed some of the system training.

Some people crumbled under the system and got so caught up in learning it that they overlooked the goal of doing better on the test, or just answering the question better. In the end, it was about chipping away at wrong answers and making guesses that were more likely to be correct.

For these individuals, the renaissance came when they let go and trusted the system. A huge cognitive load was released allowing them to use it for focusing on the question at hand.

I wonder about trusting our systems more and some of the new ones that will be in place soon. How long do we have to keep our hands hovering over the steering wheel before we trust the self-driving car? Or maybe it’ll be reading over automatically generated emails?

After trust, however, there always has to be a verify. The easiest version of this in the test prep world was the test score. Did following the system improve the score?

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