Blog Archives

“Test Success!” is published in India

Test Success! Front coverWe have great news to share:  Test Success! has been published in India by eVookz. Mr. Madhav Naware,  the publisher, researched books on the web and chose Test Success!, which he is certain will be a great resource to students all over India.

Students of all ages must sit for numerous exams throughout their school careers. As they advance, the exams become more competitive and life-changing.

Mr. Naware was able to receive the following endorsement for Test Success! from a highly prominent educator in India, Dr. A. K. Sharma, the Former Director of the National Council of Educational Research and Testing (NCERT). Here’s what Dr. Sharma had to say, “Dr. Bernstein’s book focuses on how best a student could channelize his/her energy for succeeding in tests with special tips for parents and teachers. A MUST READ for all.”

Dr. Rakesh Mohan Joshi, Chairperson of Internaonal Collaborations at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and author of best-stelling books, wrote, “Dr Bernstien has put his heart and soul in wiritng a book that is surely going to become a best-seller in India. Dr. Bernstein’s provenmethods will make life a lot easier and efficient for every test taker int he country. Every student, teacher and parent should read this book for their own benefit.”

We’re off to a great start!

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Cheating, part 1: Why do people cheat?

Cheating

CheatingThere’s a lot of attention in the media about cheating. Students cheating on papers, teachers cheating on reporting test scores, even administrators cheating by changing test answers.

Why do people cheat? Because they can’t handle the pressure and they want out. They’re anxious and they can’t tolerate the feeling of anxiety.

From the vantage point of the three legged stool performance model, where the optimal states for good performance are being calm, confident and focused, we can see that cheating comes from not being in those three states. A person who cheats is anxious or worried (even though they may try to mask that with considerable bravado), they have negative feelings about themselves (even though they say “I don’t care”), and their attention is fixed on getting to a result rather (“I want this over!”) than going through a process. In other words, they are not calm, confident and focused.  Test Success!, the book, is all about self-empowerment. In the next few posts we’ll look at how cheating undermines the process of growing and learning and what can be done about it.

 

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Your child’s test anxiety and what to do about it

USDE2

USDE2A post fromTennessee, in Clarksville Onlinehas the title Helping Your Child Succeed in School: Helping Your Child with Test-Taking. There is no byline.  Yet story comes out of Washington. DC, and has the seal of the US Department of Education next to it.  Is the writer someone at the Department of Education? That may or may not be consequential. The article has its merits. To start with, it shows that there is an issue: test anxiety can be harmful to students.  It helps parents to do what they can to manage their kids’ stress. And there are some very good suggestions.   But the article—and the thinking behind it—don’t dig into the roots of test anxiety. It suggests that the word “TEST” is causing stress in kids. But the word is only four letters on a piece of paper or a computer screen. The letters are not jumping up and grabbing your child by the throat. If you child has test anxiety, her response to those letters is full of fear. Perhaps she’s thinking, “I can’t handle this!,” or her stomach starts churning, or she feels like she wants to run out of the room, or some combination of all three. When your child takes a test, or even thinks about taking one, the three players on her team, her body, mind, and spirit are all involved. Performance psychology tells us that we need optimal states in all three to perform well. Your child’s body needs to be calm, her mind confident, and her spirit focused.  In order to achieve these states she needs two things: awareness and tools. She needs to be aware that she’s losing it in her body, mind or spirit, that she’s becoming tense, self-doubtful and distracted. And then she needs tools to get her back on track. There are only nine tools—three for the body, three for the mind, and three for the spirit. I wrote Test Success! because students need to be taught the tools for handling any test successfully. That means tests in school and tests in life. And  parents? They need the awareness and tools as well, so they can be more calm, confident and focused in handling life’s stresses—including their kids’ test anxiety.

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Dealing with life’s tests: you’re not alone

Cory-Monteith-Pictures

Cory-Monteith-PicturesYesterday at the gym I was reading an old copy of People magazine. The cover story was about tragic death of Cory Monteith, the young, talented and vital star of the hit TV series Glee!  Cory died of a lethal combination of drugs and liquor in his hotel room in Vancouver. What was remarkable to me in the story was how split-up Cory’s life was. Friends and co-workers spoke about how easy-going and friendly he was on the set, how nice he was, how happy. But there was a whole other story going on behind the scenes. One that hardly anyone knew about. Drugs, rehab, life falling apart, and finally gone.

What I’ve seen over and over again in my long practice as a psychologist—particularly as one who focuses on performance and stress—is that when there’s so much disconnection between an outer (“great guy!”) and inner (drug addicted) life—the struggle to keep it all together is simply too much. Cory had been to rehab, people thought he was all better. But he wasn’t. He was either still suffering or he thought he could try it again. It’s speculation: we’ll never know.

What I do know is that if you’re finding it hard to deal with life’s tests don’t cover it up or hide it. Don’t try to medicate yourself (with drugs, alcohol or sex). Don’t try to deal with it alone. Reach out to someone—a family member, a friend, a clergy, a counselor. You don’t have to be lonely and suffering. You don’t have to keep up an image. You need to be yourself–all of you. No one’s perfect, everyone faces challenging tests. All the time,  It takes too much work to try to keep together  a split-up life. Ultimately it took Cory’s life. Get the help you need. Get connected. Now.

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Test anxiety: what to do about first exam panic

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Turn "No!" into "Yes!"

Turn “No!” into “Yes!”

Tweets are screaming today about first exam panic: “About to take my first college exam,” “Literally panicking over my first test of the semester,” “Not looking forward to my first test in microbiology today.” All of them are crying for HELP! So here’s my best advice: (1) Put your focus on what you have to do, not what you don’t want to do. Everyone has to take a first test-whether it’s your first test in college, or the first test of the semester, here it is. “Not looking forward” already sets you behind a big dark 8-ball. You may not be looking forward to it but don’t spend any energy on that: you have to take the test. So put your focus on the test, and take it off of “not looking forward.” (2) Learn the tools for calming down. On this website I have posted the entire Chapter 4 of my book, Test Success! The chapter title is “How to Calm Down.” It has the three tools for calming down.

Read the chapter. Use the tools. These tools didn’t come out of my head: they are research driven. They work if you use them. In fact, they work even better if you practice with them. Let me know how it goes.

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Reducing test anxiety: the force of habit

TestAnxiety-150x99

examination stressJohn, a college sophomore, came to see me with an all-too common problem. Here’s what he said:  “I keep putting off studying exams till the last minute. I know it gets me stressed out and my scores aren’t as good as they could be,  but no matter what the test is, the same thing happens.”

John’s language is a giveaway. What he refers to as “it” (how he puts off studying till the last minute), and “the same thing happens” (repeating that pattern every time he has a test), makes it seem like the issue is separate from himself. In other words, he’s not owning the problem. “It” happens.  As we talk about this John comes to see that he’s got a habit which we’ll call “studying at the last minute” and every time an exam comes along John re-runs the same habit. So much so that the habit seems to have a life of it’s own. “It” comes back again and again.

That’s the story with habits: if we keep doing something the same way over and over again the pattern is harder and harder to  break. We get used to it. We know what to expect. We think that’s the way “it” is.  Even if the end results aren’t what we would like them to be, we continue to stay in that group.

But the groove gets deeper.  If you are anxious about a test every time one comes around consider that you have a habit which is called “test anxiety.”  It’s your way of dealing with tests. But it’s not  like your arm or your leg or your ear. In other words, it’s not part of you. It’s something you do, and you do it over and over again.  You get anxious about tests. You set in motion a complex of physical, mental and spiritual feelings that feel like they are overtaking you, like a giant wave, and all you can do is hope that you don’t drown.

If you really want to reduce your test anxiety then the first thing you need to do is to look at it like a habit. Watch how this habit get started. Do  the following for the next week: every time you think about an upcoming test observe what’s going on in your body:  is your heart beating rapidly? does your breath get short?  Notice what’s happening in your mind: are you saying negative things to your self like, “I’ll never do well on that test”? Observe your spirit: are you always getting distracted.

Consider this: your test anxiety is a “ball-of-wax” habit that combines all three.  Next, consider this: that like any habit, you can change the whole thing. You can learn a new habit.  How?  Stay tuned. Each week I’m going to add a different tip for setting different habits in motion.

In the meantime, email me about your habits of test anxiety. I’m all ears!

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Teachers cheating: the stresses of testing

Student Cheating on a TestNearly three dozen former teachers and administrators from the Atlanta Public Schools were named in a 65-count racketeering indictment related to cheating on school tests. A grand jury said the educators participated in a criminal enterprise to inflate students’ test scores.

This morning’s news carried the story of teachers and administrators turning themselves in to law enforcement officials  These are searing images..  While the tendency would be to look at this as a “what’s-the-message-it’s-sending-to-children?” story, let’s look look at it as what it says about the stresses of testing in this country.

In many states, teachers professional careers are tied to their students’ test scores. While teachers should be accountable for their work and for the results that show up in their students, using standardized test scores as the main measure of this connection is dreadfully shortsighted. The teacher/student relationship is rich and complicated. Reducing it to a test score limits and demeans this relationship. It frightens teachers, students, parents, administrators and politicians.

We are passing on to our children a culture of fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing a job, fear of not being enough. Fear is a poor substitute for learning, which should be embracing, full of curious exploration and delight in discovery. Teachers marching into a police station to be booked for criminal activity is saying, “We are caught in a cripplingly stressful situation. We need help.”

 

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Hope in prison

Seeking a future

Seeking a future

I have had the opportunity to be in correspondance with prisoners who are using Test Success! to prepare for the GED.  The book was given to a young prisoner by his Mom and then other prisoners became interested in it. Some states require a GED in order to be released from prison at the end of sentence. This causes considerable  and sometimes crippling anxiety in many prisoners because they have been out of the educational system for a long time, or they have a previous history of failing on tests, or they have a history of sabotaging their own success. All of these issues have come up in my correspondance. Yet at the root of the issues and questions these men pose, there is a genuine desire to move forward, to clear their paths of the damage they have done, to themselves and others, and to create a life for themselves that is meaningful. We all make mistakes in life, and some make more drastic and consequential mistakes than others. Yet, what these prisoners are teaching me is that the spark of desire for self-improvement and self-realization never goes out, it just dims and is obscured. The feedback these men are giving me is that the tools in the book are useful to them not only in preparing for the GED, but in their daily lives in prison. To a person they respond to the tools for being calm, confident and focused, and many have mentioned that they already see the relevancy — and necessity– of continuing to use the tools once they are on the outside. I applaud their efforts and want to do what I can to support them.  A note: I’ve said, “these men”: to date I have been introduced to male prisoners and would very much like to be introduced to female prisoners as well. If you have a story to share about prisoners or can facilitate an introduction of Test Success! to a prisoner, please let me know. Everyone can make a contribution to society given the right opportunity.

 

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Test anxiety: advice for parents

A great resource for parents and teachers

Little Pickle Press, an award-winning website for parents and teachers, invited me to do their guest post this week. Check it out. Their mission is great. From their website:  Little Pickle Press  is dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.

Their theme this month is anxiety and fear. My post offers parents suggestions for understanding and dealing with test anxiety. There is so much riding on tests these days and kids have good reason to be anxious.  In my book there is a whole chapter devoted to parents, and I encourage you to read it. Parents can go a long way to helping their children reduce test anxiety. The answer?  When parents are calm, confident and focused they can better understand what’s going on with their children.

Please send me your stories: does your child suffer from test anxiety?  how do you deal with it? I welcome your comments and questions.

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The coaching relationship: a partnership like no other

The coach is there for you

The Olympics give us a marvelous, first-hand glimpse into a world that we do see that much of:  the partnership between athlete and coach. Sure,  during non-Olympic years the TV carries many images of football and basketball coaches on the sidelines– cheering, shouting, cajoling, and standing by every play and call as the athletes they train are performing. But what about individual athletes?  We almost never see their coaches except at Olympic time.  When the gymnast dismounts the coach is right there with a big bear hug (“You did an amazing job!”) or a consoling arm-around-the-shoulder  (“I believe in you”).

One of the most most talked about coaching relationships is the one Michael Phelps has with Bob Bowman, his coach since Phelps was 11 years old.  As ESPN reported, thei relationship is not just athlete-coach, it’s also “parent child, business partners, best friends.”  What makes this relationship Read more ›

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