Tag Archives: anxiety

Does Race Affect Academic Performance?

It does. And so does gender. Exactly how it effects your test scores totally depends on the thoughts floating around in your head, no matter what color it is. In fact, race and gender aren’t really the culprit; for that we have to look to stereotypes.

In the classic study on stereotype threat researchers Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson looked at the performance of African American and White college students. The African American students’ performance on the GRE test varied markedly when they were primed to think of the test in two different ways. When the GRE was presented as a measure of intelligence African American students performed Continue reading Does Race Affect Academic Performance?

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Should I Invest in a GRE Prep Course?

Taking a prep course is really an ideal first step for most students.  If you’ve never built a house before, it would NOT be smart to go out and start pouring concrete and putting up boards on your own for a couple of months, and only then go talk to an architect/builder to find out exactly how to do things.

You normally start by getting with an architect to plan the building and by talking to a builder who knows something about exactly how to procede with each step of the process.  Taking a prep course is like talking to an experienced builder and architect first.  Although their services can come at a premium, they can help you make sure that none of your time and effort is wasted.  In fact, they will more than pay for themselves!

A GRE prep course can raise a student’s combined score an average of Continue reading Should I Invest in a GRE Prep Course?

Arousal Control Can Help You Perform Better on Exams

Test Stress Can Shut You Down!
Test Stress Can Shut You Down!

From the series Better Test Performance the Navy SEALs Way. In a recently televised interview, the Navy SEALs command psychologist, Eric Potterat, listed four key mental techniques taught to SEAL candidates.  Arousal control, the third technique listed, concerns how we keep calm in stressful situations.  Here’s how you can apply this to help increase your own test performance.

You know that sinking feeling you sometimes get when you first turn over that exam and see a question you don’t know how to answer?  Often times you’ll start to sweat and you may feel jittery and hot.  That’s a panic response.  It worked great 5,000 years ago when your great-great-great-great grandfather was being chased by a bear. His heart rate shot through the roof.  Cortisol–the stress chemical–flooded his system, making him hyper-vigilant to environmental cues and allowing him to react quickly and instinctively.  Blood flowed away from non-essential organs, such as the stomach, and rushed to major muscle groups so he could fight or run away. Helpful for getting away from bears; very unhelpful for concentrating on tests.

So how do we convince our brains to stop panicking so we can do our best on the exam?  The answer is what psychologists term “arousal control,” and one of the easiest ways to do it is by breathing carefully and deliberately. Taking slow deep breaths with controlled exhales works to convince the brain that we are not in a situation where panic is helpful.  Expectant mothers in Lamaze classes, meditating monks, the SEALs, and folk wisdom all agree.  “Just take a couple of deep breaths,” is good advice. Follow this formula…

  1. Inhale deeply, slowly counting to six as you do so
  2. Hold the breath for a count of two
  3. Exhale slowly for a six count, trying to completely expel every bit of air from your lungs.  Feel your face, neck, and shoulders relax as you exhale.  Blow the tension out with your breath.
  4. Hold for a two count
  5. Repeat three times at least
  6. Practice this on a daily basis–in traffic, in line at the grocery store, waiting for class to start–and you’ll soon master the technique

From the Series “Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way” Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Talk Yourself Into Better Test Scores

From the series Better Test Performance the Navy SEALs Way.

In a recently televised interview, the Navy SEALs command psychologist, Eric Potterat, listed four key mental techniques taught to SEAL candidates.  Self talk, the third technique listed, concerns how we focus our thoughts in high-stress situations.  Here’s how you can apply this to help increase your own test performance.

Students who panic on the SAT, GRE, or on classroom exams often have destructive patterns of self talk.  They think to themselves, “Oh no.  I missed those last two questions.  I just know it!  I’ll probably fail this whole test and make a D in the class.  I’ll have to drop out of school.  My parents are going to kill me! I’ll probably end up playing xBox 24/7, eating cheesie poofs out of the giant family-size bag, and drinking massive amounts of Mad Dog 20/20 just to drown the pain of the train wreck that is my life!”

Needless to say, that sort of thinking doesn’t help you solve the next calculus problem.  In fact, it produces massive amounts of panic chemicals that make higher-order thinking almost impossible.

Solution?  Instead of talking yourself into a panic, talk yourself into a better state.  One easy way to put this into practice is a technique I call the personal cheerleader.  Here’s how…

  1. Think of someone right now who encourages you when you feel defeated or depressed.  Could be your mom, dad, a coach, a boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever.
  2. Mentally take that person with you to the test.
  3. When you start to panic, have your mental cheerleader give you a little pep-talk.  “You can do it!  Don’t worry about that question.  Concentrate on the next one.”
  4. BONUS: You can take as many mental cheerleaders as you like to the test, and you can take whoever you want.  Try Brad Pitt or the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.  Try Brad Pitt AND the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Changing the way you talk to yourself as a way to increase your success is supported by scads of great research.  But it doesn’t work unless you do it.  Put it into practice today!

Of the 1,200 entering freshmen at West Point in 1987, 100 quit within the first two months.  Why?  These are some of the best and brightest young people our nation has to offer.  To even be admitted they must score high on the SAT, be in excellent physical condition, be top-ranked in high school, and have gone through a strenuous and time-consuming application and admissions process.  What is it about those 100 young men and women that makes them drop out in sixty days or less?

Psychologist Martin Seligman thinks he has the answer.  In his ground-breaking book, Learned Optimism, Dr. Seligman explains that the 100 who dropped out all explained events to themselves poorly.  They tended to explain their failures in terms that were personal (“It’s my own fault”), permanent (“It will never change”), and pervasive (“It undermines everything I do”).  In short, they were pessimists.  Optimists, on the other hand, see their setbacks as not their fault, temporary, and not important in the long run.

Optimists turn out to be more successful than pessimists in many aspects of life.  They make better sales people, they live longer, they are less likely to get depressed or quit, they do better in school, they do better at work, and they do better at sports.  Optimist candidates are more likely to get elected.  Optimists are even healthier!

How does this affect your test performance?  If you are pessimistic you tend to see a low test score as a disaster that cannot be remedied.  It’s your own fault for being lazy or stupid.  It will never change.  It will affect you entire college career.  If that’s your take on things, why bother with studying next time?  Talking to yourself in this manner causes you to give up prematurely.

Easy fix; change how you talk to yourself.  Think right now about the last test you bombed.  Why did you bomb it?  Is it because you are dumb?  Now argue with that reasoning!  “Wait, I’m not dumb.  I beat my roommate in chess all the time, and she’s got a full scholarship.  Besides, I got an A in bio-chem last semester when half the class failed.”

Make excuses for yourself.  “I stayed out too late the night before, and the prof put a bunch of stuff on there that she didn’t mention in class.  Besides, we get to throw out one test score anyway.”  All of these excuses are fixable.  You can get to sleep earlier.  You can go by during office hours and ask the prof to help you make sure you cover everything.

Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism, is fascinating reading and provides some more in-depth hints on how to move yourself from pessimism to optimism.  Check it out!

From the Series “Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Imagine Better Test Scores

From the series Better Test Performance the Navy SEALs Way.

In a recently televised interview, a Navy SEALs representative listed four key mental techniques taught to SEAL candidates. The second of those techniques was mental rehearsal.  Here’s how you can apply this to help increase your own test performance.

That gray organ betwixt your ears is a virtual time machine that can be used for helping or harming your test performance.  As a highschool teacher I noticed that some of my students–eager and able to answer questions during class discussions–were bombing miserably on my tests.

I began researching test anxiety to try and find a solution to their problem, and soon discovered some rock-solid techniques for reducing that stress that was hindering their performance.  One powerful tool I uncovered was mental rehearsal, that is, carefully and clearly envisioning a successful performance before the event.

Here’s how… Continue reading Imagine Better Test Scores

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Goal Setting (It’s Not What You Think!)

From the series Better Test Performance the Navy SEALs Way.

U.S. Navy SEALs wannabees are taught goal setting.  Why?  It helps more of them survive the grueling training and actually become SEALs.

If you’re like me, goal setting brings to mind thick-as-your-thigh Covey planners and pretentious self-help gurus.  But if the SEALs are using it, you can bet there’s no namby-pamby lets-all-get-in-touch-with-our-inner-child two-day retreats going on.  Pragmatic techniques that can be used when the world is on fire are what they’re looking for.

Goal setting on-the-fly functions like this; set your sights on an immediate, easily-reachable goal and then take one step after another until you get there.  Then set a new goal.  For a SEAL trainee, their internal dialogue might go something like this…

“Just gotta make it until lunch, then I can rest.” And after lunch, “Just gotta make it over the next hundred yards of beach.” and then, “Just gotta swim this last 200 yards.”

The entire day is broken up into a series of individually manageable steps.

You can do the same during finals to get through the mountains of work that can pile up.  “Just gotta get through this next chapter.”  “Just gotta finish the next page of this rough draft.” Or you can use it when test anxiety rears it’s ugly head.  “Just gotta finish this next problem.”

This technique is deceptively simple, but it’s powerful and proven!  It helps concentrate your efforts not on what you can’t do, but on what you can.

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!

From the Series “Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way

The elite SEALs teams–the U.S. Navy’s Special Ops forces–have discovered how to make their trainees more successful at completing the mythically tough training and actually become Navy SEALs.  In fact, they now teach trainees stress control techniques that may be responsible for helping to boost the number of successful passing candidates from one fourth of each class to one third of each class.

Amazingly, these techniques are very similar to what I’ve been teaching my students for years.  No magic here.  What I teach comes directly out of good psychological research, and the SEALs have been doing their homework!

According to a recent History Channel documentary on brain science, SEAL trainees are now taught four key stress control techniques that allow them to perform better even during the grinding SEAL Hell Week.

The four keys?  Goal Setting, Mental Rehearsal, Self Talk, and Arousal Control.  I normally teach these techniques in my GRE prep course to help students cope with test anxiety and in my College Capable seminar as a way to conquer daunting study schedules.

Check back tomorrow as we look at how the SEALs use goal setting to overcome stress and how you can use it to excel during finals!

From the Series “Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard (Part 5)

When I was a kid I mowed lawns for extra money during the summers. Sure, it’s hot, sweaty work–especially in West Texas where chickens actually lay hard-boiled eggs–but mowing lawns is great. How else could a twelve-year old make twenty dollars an hour?mowing1

One thing I quickly learned was that taking care of your lawn mower makes the work go much more smoothly. Making sure the blade is sharp, the oil is changed regularly, and the air filter is clean can save you hours a day.

I heard of one idiot who failed to check the oil, like, EVER causing the engine to seize-up altogether and transmogrifying the mower into a very large, grass-covered paper weight. My dad was NOT happy.

Your brain is the tool you work with as a student, so take care of it! If you don’t you end up working much harder for poorer results. I’ve seen poorly maintained brains seize up during finals, burst into flames, and significantly char previously quite serviceable head wear.

So avoid trouble and save yourself time and effort by taking care of your gray matter. Here are some tips to on how to keep your noggin humming along. The links give more info and prove that I’m not just making this stuff up. Real scientists–and sometimes video footage–show I’m for real. So there.

  1. Get plenty of sleep … http://www.livescience.com/health/071115-sleep-memories.html
  2. Exercise regularly … http://www.livescience.com/health/080806-brain-exercise.html
  3. Britney Spears kills brain cells … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLUVNRLZzLE&feature=related
  4. Eat right … http://www.livescience.com/health/080709-food-brain.html
  5. Stay socially engaged … http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071029172856.htm
  6. Avoid bull riding unless absolutely necessary … [warning; not for the faint of heart] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgVHoWAJ0Nw
  7. Manage your stress … http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/24620.php

I hope you’ve benefitted from the Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard. Be sure to let me know in the comments of any other ways you’ve found to get better grades with less work.

Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard

  1. Cramming
  2. Taking too many notes on the wrong stuff
  3. Reading more than you need to
  4. Studying the wrong way
  5. Not taking care of your brain
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.