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Stop Calling Students "Bad Test Takers"

Here’s a typical conversation with a parent of a student embarking on SAT or ACT prep: Parent: Do you tutor SAT and ACT? Me: Yes, I most certainly do.  Parent: My child is a bad test taker. Can you help them? 

Put the brakes on right there.  “Bad test taker” might be the worst label you could ever give a child. “Bad test taker” is baggage that will weigh down any student for years and years.  Unfortunately, many parents and teachers alike feel that labeling a student as a “bad test taker” is a viable excuse for student performance. If a student performs poorly on a test, the adult can say, “don’t worry, you are just a bad test taker but you have other skills.”  What appears to be a loving and caring statement is actually quite damaging.  Truth be told, there is no such thing as a “bad test taker.” Someone that feels like a “bad test taker” simply experiences anxiety over tests. Anxiety leads to fear, fear leads to survival instincts, and survival instincts supplant logical thought making test-taking more difficult. Think about how most people respond to a bee: instead of logically staying still, many panic and try to escape.  For many students, this can be a vicious cycle: test anxiety becomes fear, fear reduces the ability to think logically, performance suffers and the student generates more test anxiety.  Sow do you break the cycle? Two simple ways: 1) manage anxiety and 2) adopt a growth mindset.  First, managing anxiety is a skill that will help on tests and in life. Approach a problem with a clear and calm demeanor. Don’t let the “flight or fight” survival instincts take control of logical problem solving. If fear or anxiety starts to creep in, take a step back and relax. Tests are not life-threatening. Approach test day as if you were embarking on a new opportunity. Tests can be a challenge but they should not instill fear.  Second, a growth mindset is the absolute key to learning. A growth mindset is the thinking that one’s brain is capable of learning new things. Once you believe you can learn new things, you can learn new things. Conversely, if you don’t think you can learn new things then you won’t learn new things.  Yes, our brains have certain strengths and weaknesses, but we shouldn’t get caught in the fixed mindset that we cannot change our brains. The science behind a growth mindset shows that the more growth you think you are capable of achieving, the more growth you can actually achieve. In other words, you can teach an old dog new tricks, or you can learn new test-taking strategies.  So if you consider yourself a bad test taker, stop that thinking right now. Change that fixed mindset and view tests as a new opportunity to learn. Adopt a growth mindset and manage test anxiety with a calm and relaxed approach. Break the cycle of fear and poor performance, learn some new approaches to test-taking and watch your test scores improve. For more tips and hints, contact CROSSWALK. CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula’s resource for ACT prep, SAT prep and academic tutoring. 

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