Test prep: stress and performance

Having a basic understanding of the relationship between stress and performance is vital to improving your test performance.

One of the most thoroughly researched phenomena in the field of psychology. A hundred years ago two psychologists were the first to study it and produced the Yerkes-Dodson Curve, which looks like this:


The Yerkes Dodson Curve. Think of "arousal" as "stress."

as you can see…

…when your arousal/ stress escalates to the point of discomfort, your effectiveness diminishes. When there’s too much stress, you leave “the optimal zone.”

The result is your problem-solving skills contract and your self-esteem and confidence decline. You have trouble staying focused so you feel tense, sometimes to the point of feeling sick or exhausted. At this point, your temper is short, fuses blow and your performance goes down the tubes.

This relationship between stress and performance holds true whether you are performing in a play, or playing a baseball game, or delivering a speech. And it kicks in every time you have to take a test.

What is a test if not a performance?

To most people, a performance suggests something that happens on a stage or an athletic field.

But its definition is broader than that.

A performance is “the act of carrying out something; an execution or an action.”

That’s what an academic test is: it’s more than learning the material. It is the
act of carrying out, showing, and proving what you know.

Performance involves learning how to be fully present in the moment, right there at test time.

It doesn’t matter how well you tested last week, or how well you will do tomorrow; the only thing that counts is how you perform now.

An exercise for you:  recall a time when you are fully in the present and when your stress was at the right level and you were performing at your best. What was the experience? See it and feel it in all it’s detail. Hold the experience and become more aware when your stress is building .  Learn to use the tools in my book to keep your stress at an optimal level.

What’s your relationship to stress?  How much do you need to perform well?  Are you stressing yourself out in order to do your best?  I’d like to hear from you.

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