Why Some Kids Handle Test Pressure and Others . . . Not.
But doesn't it depend? We all know the student who can waltz through a theater performance yet crash and burn during a test, or a high school student who is a confident test-taker but chokes during a speech. Excerpt:"The people who perform best in normal conditions may not be the same people who perform best under stress," Diamond says. People born with the fast-acting enzymes "actually need the stress to perform their best." To them, the everyday is underwhelming; it doesn't excite them enough to stimulate the sharpness of mind of which they are capable. They benefit from that surge in dopamine - it raises the level up to optimal. They are like Superman emerging from the phone booth in times of crisis; their abilities to concentrate and solve problems go up.
Some scholars have suggested that we are all Warriors or Worriers. Those with fast-acting dopamine clearers are the Warriors, ready for threatening environments where maximum performance is required. Those with slow-acting dopamine clearers are the Worriers, capable of more complex planning. Over the course of evolution, both Warriors and Worriers were necessary for human tribes to survive.
So while the single-shot stakes of a standardized exam is particularly ill suited for Worrier genotypes, this doesn't mean that they should be shielded from all challenge. In fact, shielding them could be the worst response, depriving them of the chance to acclimate to recurring stressors.
Johnson explains this as a form of stress inoculation: You tax them without overwhelming them. "And then allow for sufficient recovery," he continued. Training, preparation and repetition defuse the Worrier's curse.
It would be fairly difficult to go through life "shielded from all challenge". Sounds like practice-makes-habit but aren't we talking about test prep and how to practice how to take a test? (See my review of Sian Bellock's book in the post Choke, Test-Takers: A New Way to Look at Test-Prep? ) And shouldn't there be other forms of assessments, such as portfolios of work as expressed by educator Tony Wagner in his book, Creating Innovators?
The article then advocates for more competition - the right kind - among students to acclimate them to the stresses one needs to be able to handle
in life. The authors make the case that the SAT and other high-stakes standardized tests "lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children's anxiety." The answer? Bring on academic competitions such as spelling bees, Math competitions and chess clubs.
One would think the above-mentioned forms of "right" competition usually would be selected by students themselves. In other words, these are venues of choice. I would think a poor speller wouldn't exactly be thrilledHigh-stakes academic testing isn't going away. Nor should competition among
students. In fact several scholars have concluded that what students need is more academic competition, but modeled on the kinds children enjoy.
by the prospect of a public spelling bee competition. Rick Lavoie tackles
the issue of competition along this line of thinking. In fact, he believes
there is another greater motivator which I won't spoil for you - check out
The 3 Myths about Competition: How it affects student motivation.
What say ye on this topic? You may also want to see the Kindergarten Test Prep video below, especially the 2:30-4:00 mark - it's a gem. You'll see
what I mean. Video runs 5 minutes.
Related The Daily Riff:
Parents: The New Stupid by C.J. Westerberg
Is Learning a Sport? by Chris Wejr
Fires in the Mind: What does it take to get really good at something?