Think you’re smart? Then you’re also right. At least that’s what’s indicated by the psychological research on a concept called stereotype threat .
The short version? People tend to do worse on standardized tests when they’ve been primed to think they will do worse. In one example, African American students at Stanford did worse on the GRE when subtly reminded of the stereotypical preconceptions about African Americans’ lower performance on such tests (see study). In another study , when it was suggested to a group of golfers that golf was an intelligence game, white golfers’ performance increased and black golfers’ performance decreased. When it was suggested that golf was a game of innate physical skill the results were reversed! Similar studies have shown that stereotypes concerning women’s mathematical abilities affect their test performances on math-related tests. Indeed, there are more than a hundred of these studies (see http://www.reducingstereotypethreat.org/ for more info).
This effect, however, is not limited to stereotyped groups. Everyone is affected by this under some circumstances … especially on exams and standardized tests! There is a simple method to counteract this effect, and to actually make it work FOR you. [hidepost]
Anyone can sink themselves by thinking negative thoughts and boost their performance by thinking more helpful thoughts. This effect is well supported by research and practice (see cognitive behavioral therapy, and Learned Optimism , by Seligman, for examples.) Obviously, it doesn’t matter how good your attitude is if you didn’t learn the material. But, eliminating unhelpful thinking can allow you to maximize your possible performance.
So what to do? How do I convince my brain that I’m actually brilliant? Here’s an easy technique that I teach my students. Take a minute to think of someone that really makes you feel good about your ability to perform … could be a coach, a parent, a significant other … whoever. Now imagine that person coming with you to the test. Before each test section or whenever you feel anxious, imagine that person giving you a pep talk to encourage you; “Don’t worry. You can do this! You spent all that time preparing. Knock ’em dead!” Try to imagine them as clearly as possible. Let yourself feel better. Give it a try! It absolutely works.[/hidepost]