Monthly Archives: October 2009

Want higher test scores? Come to test prep noontime talk

Come to my noontime talk at the University of California San Francisco and you will learn what you need to improve your test performance.

Details: Thursday, Oct 29, room HSW-301. If you can’t  be there, shoot me an email with your test prep question and I’ll reply.

YD curve

One of the things I will clarify is the Yerkes Dodson curve (click on image at left for larger view and explanation).

It’s all about how to perform optimally by keeping your stress at just the right level.

Too much stress and your performance starts to slide.

The key better test prep and higher test scores is awareness – that your stress is building — and tools to reduce stress on the spot.

That’s what the talk is about.   See you there.

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Keep your cool during test prep

The Midwest Book Review October issue gives THE WORKBOOK FOR TEST SUCCESS a terrific review. It starts with “Tests are more than a evaluation of one’s knowledge.” Yes! The fundamental purpose of THE WORKBOOK is to provide a tool box for test prep that gives students “the advice they need to approach examinations more calmly, keep their cool, and do what they need to get better performance on tests where freaking out so often leads to worse scores.”

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Struggling with test preparation and overwhelm?

I had an email this morning from a college student:  “I’m having trouble with feeling overwhelmed. Midterms are coming up and I feel like I can’t catch up. I don’t know where to start. What should I do?”

This is a familiar feeling to anyone who is or has been a student. (In fact, it’s a familiar feeling to everyone. We all have too much going on and too little time to get it all done).

My advice to the student is simple: “Start somewhere. You are sitting there feeling overwhelmed, so of course you have a problem with feeling overwhelmed. Start doing something.  Take out one book for one subject and read one chapter or a part of the chapter. This will put you on course for feeling like you’re doing something because… you are!”

The model: a three legged stool

This touches on issues of confidence, calm and focus. In my book I talk about the three legged stool– one leg each for each of the qualities. If you say “I can’t…” you are having a confidence problem. It will make you feel all nervous (lack of calm), and you will be distracted (inability to focus). The solution I am proposing is taking a step (focus), making it small and manageable (to build your confidence), and all of that will help you calm down.  Try it.

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Amazon reviews!… Calming down…

Delighted by the attention THE WORKBOOK FOR TEST SUCCESS is receiving on Amazon.

The last one is from the Midwest Book Review:  “The Workbook for Test Success is of high recommendation to any faced with major tests or educators who want to help their students succeed.”

Check out the other Amazon reviews:

Thanks for the continuing interest and support!


As promised, here’s a selection from Chapter 4, How to Calm Down.  This is from the beginning of the chapter. See if you can identify with this…

Last September a bright high school senior named Jamal came to see me. Anxiously, he asked me to help him raise his SAT scores by 200 points so the college of his choice would accept him. He had one last chance to take the test. After that, he was at the mercy of whichever college would take him. Why had he performed poorly?

“Because on the last SAT test,” Jamal told me, “I grew more and more nervous as the time went on. I couldn’t remember the information I studied so I started thinking ‘What hope is there?’ After I scraped by on three questions in a row, I hit a wall. I just froze up.”

As Jamal spoke, his right leg bounced up and down rapidly, his shoulders tensed and rose almost to his ears, and his speech accelerated like a car with a jammed gas pedal. Several times while he spoke, he held his breath. “Just talking about the test makes me nervous,” he said anxiously, a comment which of course was unnecessary since his whole body communicated it. “I feel like I’m flipping out right now. This is what happened to me on the SAT.”

It was a natural mistake: Jamal believed that remembering the test was making him nervous. In fact, all the nervous things he was doing with his body were causing his anxiety: bouncing his legs, tensing his shoulders, holding his breath. His body made his mind nervous, not his memories. When I told him this he looked at me like I was from another planet. “My brain is taking the test,” he shot back, “not my body. I always sit like this. What does all that have to do with my SAT scores?”

This is very common misconception. Most people think that only their mind is working on an exam. That’s where the information is stored, right?

Not quite.

Since your body is one of the three key players on your team, all of your body is in the room and engaged when you take a test. If you want to perform at your best, then all of you, not just your brain, has to be fully present and supporting the process.

An agitated body creates a jumpy feeling of impatience and it makes you want to run away. Physical tension can quickly shut down your ability to remember what you have studied and if you are expected to produce this information for a test, you are immediately thrust into a state of anxiety. The feeling grows. Soon, you feel like you are losing control. The result: poor performance, perhaps failure.

On the other hand, a calm body can significantly improve your ability to think, to recall information, to answer questions properly, and to make good use of the time available.

When I observe students taking tests, I see so much nervous body language—hunched backs, tight shoulders, bobbing knees, facial grimaces, taut fists, and constricted breathing. Test takers are often completely unaware of what their bodies are doing and how profoundly that is affecting their performance. Frankly, it’s amazing that so many students even make it to the end of tests without having panic attacks.

Tensing during a test creates stress. Adrenaline surges through your gut, your blood pressure shoots up and your entire system goes on alert. Your brain screams Danger!—as if a tiger is chasing you. A torrent of stress hormones unleashes into your bloodstream. It becomes increasingly hard to focus and think. Looking at the test questions makes you panic because suddenly you just can’t answer them. It looks as if those questions are causing your anxiety, but questions are just printed words on paper. They aren’t doing anything to you. Your stress is mounting and your performance is suffering because you are disconnecting from your own body. You are not aware of what your body is doing, but it’s spinning out of control. You may even feel like you want to flee, but you can’t. You have to sit there and force yourself to answer the questions.

How can you possibly perform well in the face of all that tension, when you want to run away but can’t? These are all forms of disconnection. Remember: disconnection causes stress and too much stress causes poor performance.
If your body is agitated, then your performance will suffer.

It’s the same for any type of performance. If a basketball player is sitting on the bench waiting to go into the game and she keeps tensing her body, when the coach finally sends her out on the court she will be nervous right from the start. She’ll miss shots she ought to be making and she’ll be out of sync with her teammates. It doesn’t matter how hard she practiced. She needs to stay loose on and off the court. If a piano player’s fingers lock in the middle of a piece, they can’t float effortlessly over the keys. Again, it doesn’t matter how well he knows the music.

In all these cases, the performers disconnected from their bodies. Remember the three-legged stool? Disconnection in one leg immediately hobbles the other two. When you lose the feeling of calm in your body, it precipitates negative thoughts (in your mind) and you’ll easily become distracted and lose heart (in your spirit). Stress can build very rapidly and when it grows past a certain point, your performance will suffer. Guaranteed.

To improve your test performance you have to reduce the stress in your body. Simply put, when you take a test you want your body to be calm. The rest of this chapter will show you how to do that.

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"Phenomenally successful" & Calming down

The book launch attracted much interest with an SRO crowd on Saturday. The Borders manager, Kara Worden, called the event “phenomenally successful. I’ve never seen a first-time author sell so many books.”

After the reading and a lively Q&A, people lined up and bought many copies. One grandmother bought 6 for each of her grandkids. Orders are coming in from all over the country, spreading by word-of-mouth. Three reviews have been posted on Amazon

IMG_1523Speaking of all over the country… one anxious test-taker in New England wrote in to say that she’s having difficulty with a licensing exam, which she’s failed twice already. She feels she knows the material but “clutches” on the test. Sounds like a perfect candidate for Chapter 4, “How to Calm Down.” In my next post I’ll include an excerpt from that chapter and comment on it. I’d love to hear your comments too.

Thank you everyone for all your interest and support!

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Come to the launch!

Friday and Saturday, October 2 and 3 — The book launch!

Borders, Emeryville.

Friday, from 5-7 pm and Saturday from 1-3 pm.
Prizes! Giveaways!

Interesting people!

I look forward to seeing you.

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