Sometimes I work with students who perform well during our lessons, but who struggle when it comes to actually taking the test. It turns out the reason for this might be genetic.
When we experience stress, our prefrontal cortex is flooded with dopamine. Some of us are coded with a gene that slowly removes the dopamine, while others have a variant that rapidly removes it. The prefrontal cortex is critical for planning and decision-making, and it performs best when an optimal level of dopamine is maintained. Normally, on many cognitive tests, people with the slow variant of the gene perform better. But in stressful, high-stakes situations the opposite happens: those with the fast variant do better. Thus people with the slow variant have been dubbed Worriers, and those with the fast variant, Warriors.
However, being a Worrier does not mean you will inevitably be a victim of chronic underperformance in stressful situations. In one of the studies...
At the beginning of my senior year of college, everyone was panicking about the possibility of not finding a job before graduation. Hence, job fairs were heavily attended. While attending a job fair hosted by the business school, I was encouraged to discuss finance positions at Abercrombie and Fitch by a recruiter. I decided I had nothing to lose and introduced myself. She then asked me what I scored on the SAT. Yes, she was referring to the exam that I took over five years ago. After awkwardly staring at her in disbelief, I answered her question and kindly ended the conversation. I do not agree with how the recruiter tried to put me in a box, but as Tupac said, “I was given this world, I didn’t make it.” Doing well on the SAT pays dividends and high school students may encounter this recruiter in the future, so I have decided to share my experience with the SAT.
Five Years Ago…
As many of my classmates prepared to gain admission to the University of Texas, I was...
1. Relax, breathe: you are prepared.
2. POE: process of elimination. Two or more answers are illogical. Choose the one that isn't vague or you know is correct.
3. Skip the ones you have no idea how to answer. Do them last (after a water or bathroom break).
4. Eat a healthy meal and drink lots of water. Low scores can be linked to poor nutrition, sleep deprevation and test anxiety.
5. Check your answers after all of them are answered. You don't want to run out of time. Earplugs (if allowed) helped me focus.
I have noticed that a lot of students are bright, knowledgeable, prepared, and eager to succeed.
Yet, when it comes to test time, they might as well have not studied at all. It's the nerves!! I have no explanation for why nerves cause such problems, and I definitely don't have a fix-all. Unfortunately, if you have anxiety, it's just something you'll have to deal with.
Here's a few tips:
No coffee before tests. I know you think it relaxes you, but it doesn't.
no cigarettes. Yes, believe it or not some high school kids smoke. Wait until after the test to singe your lungs.
no cramming. You either know it or you dont, so goto sleep and eat breakfast in peace.
try eating unsalted almonds or raw spinach, but defintely not salted almonds or cooked spinach.
if you're nervous, call your tutor. if you don't have a tutor and are nervous,...
There are many situations in which a student or parent might want to seek extra help with math.
Does the student often need to retake assessments? As a teacher, I like to offer make-ups because I want my students to know it's more important to learn the material than to move on before they're ready. Needing to frequently retake assessments means that the student needs to reevaluate how they are preparing. Often, getting a tutor can help them figure out how to best study independently.
Does the student freeze during assessments? Does their mind go blank? Or do they think they did well but it turns out that wasn't the case?
It's possible the student has test anxiety and needs to build their confidence. Talking through the material with someone is one of the best ways to alleviate that anxiety.
Does the student have a difficult time staying caught up with the material? Do they feel like they always get it after the test or quiz but not before?
Yesterday, I helped a new student understand some of the difficulties she is experiencing, and I wanted to share this here.
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: When...
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.
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.
For Freshlaws (first year law students) the flood of information and mind altering Socratic method classroom discussions often result in an overwhelming feeling of concern as Halloween passes and finals loom in a month or so. Law school finals are like nothing most students experience in undergrad because they are often all or nothing and the resulting grades have such a massive effect on career choices. With the best law firms aiming at the top ten percent of law students by GPA and internships starting after first year, each exam carries enormous weight.
So, in November law students must refine their studying to bring tremendous focus to upcoming exams. The time has come to bring outlines up-to-date and edit them. Review the other students in your study group to cut out slackers and focus on those with the same intense drive. If you feel weak in any subject, it is time to consider seeking out a tutor to give you the one on one advantage that is not available...
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 the material,...
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 at...
When my kids express their concerns about failing a test I ask them to stop talking, take a deep breath and ask them to recall a test they took 2 years ago in the second week of November. Most of the time my kids will look at the ground, ponder for a moment or two and respond with "I don't remember". Then I ask them if they feel they have had a successful academic career to which they answer "yes".
The point I'm trying to make is that being overly nervous about taking tests is wasted energy. If you are confident that you have had and will continue to have a successful academic career then have the same confidence that you will do well on this test.
Don't misunderstand me. I believe that a small amount of nervousness is a good thing. If we didn't have an inkling of nerves life would be somewhat dull. And if my kids expect to take a test and pass with flying colors without proper studying and preparation then they should be nervous...
So many students that I have worked with start the first sit down meeting with "I really don't like math" , "I have math anxiety" , "I am bad at math", or any combination of those feelings.
I have to say that I when I hear that it makes me mad. Not at the student, of course, but at an education system that creates stress and anger towards one of the most important subject a person can learn!
Everyone should have basic literacy and numeracy skills, because without them the world is a much harder place. Have to pay pills? Don't want to get ripped off buying a car? Need to find out how much tax or interest you might have to pay? Need to verify if what you got paid was right? These situations, and so many more, require basic math skills! So, like I said, it makes me mad that students are not being given one of the most basic skills that they really need: a love of mathematics!
Okay, so you really don't have to love...
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," "never,"...
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 the...