Life is like a Box of…

Pralinen

Tests.

Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add undergrad, grad school, and professional development to that number and I can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we make a contingency plan: If I fail this test, I will have ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to take a course in the summer.  Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay our timeline, it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to each fear and a realistic contingency plan in place, I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset: This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it! I try to help my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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Gifted Students and The Fear of Failure

once upon a timeLast year, I started tutoring a gifted middle school student named Naomi*, a sweet-natured, lovely, young tween who was doing excellent in all of her subjects, except for writing. Now, it was not that Naomi was a bad student with poor grades or poor behavior. In fact, Naomi was getting by in English class but just not acing her tests and receiving B’s instead of A’s on her papers. I was called in as academic support simply because she didn’t like writing.

What’s the Problem with Not Liking Something?

Not liking writing was not a problem for Naomi but, rather, her teacher and her mom. Together, they each encouraged Naomi to “find her voice” through the written word but despite all of this encouragement, Naomi was still not living up to her potential. I could see after just one session that she clearly had the capability to do better but for some reason purposely chose not to. Why? Well, because when Naomi didn’t like something, she quit.

The problem doesn’t lie with disliking a class or an activity. We all have our preferences. Rather, the problem lies with how we address disliking a class or activity, especially when it’s something that we have to do, like school.

Gifted Students Often Give Up When Things Get Difficult

Gifted or high achieving students often have low self-esteem because they tend to be perfectionists. Many things come naturally to these students and when something suddenly doesn’t, they have to make a choice: power through or give up.

Oftentimes, they initially give up. If they give up enough times, they’ve unintentionally created a pattern of quitting, which leads to low confidence and low self-esteem — thinking that they can only be good at the things that they’re naturally good at and not the things that they must work hard for.

It’s also a question of failure. The student may reason that there’s a greater chance of failure if they embark on the journey of working hard on a subject matter that is not necessarily easy, like all of the rest of their classes. Will the risk be worth it?

Help Students See that Working Hard for Something is Worth It

The fact of the matter is that no one can be good at everything. It’s impossible. What’s funny about working with my logical and reasonable gifted students is that logic and reason doesn’t help them overcome their fear of failure. Logic and reason would tell you to take the easy way out. Grit would tell you to shoot for the stars, without a guarantee.

Also, for many students this may be the first time in their life that school is hard. Presented with this new challenge they have to decide to put more effort into something that may not reap the same reward. And that’s scary!

Now Naomi Wants to be a Writer

Even though Naomi presented with a dislike of writing, her real issue was that she was scared of failing because most everything had come so easily to her before this class. Once we got to the root of the problem, I began to help her see the value in working hard at something even though there was no guarantee of easy success.

Naomi did the work. She practiced. Her confidence slowly improved. And Just last week, she informed that she wants to be a professional writer. It’s clear that Naomi’s not scared of trying new things anymore.

*Not student’s real name

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”