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Yesterday, I helped a new student understand some of the difficulties she is experiencing, and I wanted to share this here. The Classroom: Studying in class is like taking a guided tour. If you trust your guide (the teacher,) you can follow into unknown territory, with an open mind. As you are exposed to new things you can ask questions, experience new activities, and be guided out of trouble if you get lost. In the classroom, your responsibility is to follow the teacher’s guidance, and notice when you lose track. (You will lose track. We all do. The only question is when!) Some examples from my students, of how they know they’re lost:  I’m singing a song in my head I’m thinking about my sandwich It seems as if the teacher in talking in a foreign language I’m beating myself up – “I’m a looser”, “I’ll never get it”   So this is the First Classroom Skill: Am I following the lesson, or am I in my head? The Second Classroom Skill:... read more

It's test day. You've studied hard and you feel pretty good about what you've learned. You feel prepared for this test. As your teacher passes out tests, your palms get sweaty and cold. Your head feels hot all of a sudden. You notice that it's harder to take a deep breath. And while you could recite the periodic table of elements without any problem ten minutes earlier, your mind feels as blank as the whiteboard at the front of the classroom.   What happened?   Test anxiety is what happened, and it's more common than you may think! Most student struggle with test anxiety at some point in their academic careers. It might happen every time to you take a test, or it might happen before an especially important test- like an AIMS or SOL test. Perhaps you only feel test anxiety during an SAT, AP exam, or semester finals. No matter how often it happens, seeing a big fat "D" (or worse!) on a test when you KNEW the material can be devastating. Fortunately,... read more

How to avoid the "freeze" during a quiz, test, or exam: First, let's talk about what "the freeze" is. The freeze is usually a sort of momentary panic, that makes it very hard to concentrate and focus and solve problems. Does that sound at all familiar? Many students experience it at least once in their lives, and some students face it frequently. When we have a moment of panic, our adrenaline kicks in. We go into "fight or flight" mode, and certain parts of the brain are chemically over-stimulated by the adrenaline. When we are in "fight or flight" mode, it is very hard to concentrate and do challenging problems like math and science problems. Sometimes it takes a long time to calm down and get the adrenaline out of our system. A strong panic can wipe out our best thinking skills for an entire test period, and give us a score that does not represent our actual level of understanding at all. We can actually know most of... read more

How to avoid the "freeze" during a quiz, test, or exam:   First, let's talk about what "the freeze" is. The freeze is usually a sort of momentary panic, that makes it very hard to concentrate and focus and solve problems. Does that sound at all familiar? Many students experience it at least once in their lives, and some students face it frequently. When we have a moment of panic, our adrenaline kicks in. We go into "fight or flight" mode, and certain parts of the brain are chemically overstimulated by the adrenaline. That makes it hard to focus.   When we are in "fight or flight" mode, it is very hard to concentrate and do challenging problems like math and science problems. Sometimes it takes a long time to calm down and get the adrenaline out of our system. A strong panic can wipe out our best thinking skills for an entire test period, and give us a score that does not represent our actual level of understanding... read more

This is an oddly effective right-brain activity that works well with left-brain tests.   How many times have you encountered a science or math question on an exam that seemed as if you were close to it...it's on the tip of your tongue (so to speak)...but you just keep waffling. This is particularly dangerous on a multiple-choice question. There are usually two wrong answers. Get rid of them immediately. Then, you usually find yourself going back and forth between the correct response and one that looks like it's suspiciously a great lead. The latter is called a "red herring", and it's intentionally designed to confuse you (no, it's not your imagination). So, go with your first instinct. It is often the correct one. If you don't have any truly compelling reason - such as the right answer suddenly striking you across the forehead by a cosmic 2X4 - then you shouldn't start changing answers.   I can't tell you how many times people have second-guessed... read more

Educational administration, whether at a small college or a major university, requires a lot of tactical efforts, not just educational efforts. Think about all those courses and who must determine their time slots and assign classroom space. Think of the first day of a semester when students are rushing to find out where their class meets. Imagine if you had a job where your office location changed several times a year! But even with all that planning, so many colleges seem to select a different classroom for a final exam than the classroom in which the course was conducted. The problem--according to a good deal of psychological research--is that you do best when your exam is in the same room as the one you study in.  Think about this. Lots of students find a study space that they find just right, and it becomes "their" space. Students sit down in a classroom filled with empty chairs, and that chair you first selected ends up being the one you always go... read more

Most people that I know feel that multiple choice questions on a test are a double-edged sword. On one hand, the right answer is somewhere right in front of you; you just have to pick it. On the other hand, multiple choice questions will do everything within their power to confuse you and lead you away from that right answer. Here are a few of my strategies for getting it right: *50/50 - Does anyone watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire anymore? I know I don't, but I do remember it. So, for those of us who either watch or remember it, think about the 50/50 lifeline. They'd eliminate two wrong answers out of the four potential choices. This is a great place to start! Eliminate anything that you know to be blatantly wrong. If possible, I like to physically cross it out on my test (in pencil, in case I change my mind). That way, you know what you can ignore when selecting your answer. *Absolute words - This means words that are superlative or absolute, like "always,"... read more

Text anxiety is probably the #1 killer when it comes to good grades! Understanding how you take a test and knowing how it will go is a bigger advantage than you might think. Consider this, students often perform more poorly because they make simple mistakes on tests...especially MATH TESTS. And simple mistakes are made usually when a student is rushing through their test or feels the pressure of a rush (real or imagined). The best way to deal with test anxiety is to talk to people. Talk to teachers and let them know: believe it or not, they're people too and they may sympathize or have suggestions. Talk to parents and ask for tutoring. Talk to other students and see if they experience the same thing (strength in numbers helps self-esteem). I know all this because I was a successful academic coach and these tactics work. Practicing with a tutor is probably supreme above all, so make sure somebody can be there for you. There is no shame in tutoring - Aristotle tutored Alexander... read more

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