Test prep: you vs test stress

I hear this from clients and workshop participants over and over, “I know the material.”  Worse than that, some say, “So-and-so skips class, takes my notes and yet gets better test results. It’s so unfair!”

Frustrating, to be sure, but as far as tests go, knowing and performing are not the same thing.

Knowing refers to the comprehension of content.  Performing refers to what you do with what you know.

The primary complaint I hear from clients is that they study hard to learn what they’re supposed to know, yet they cannot perform when it’s time to take the test.

The bottom line is that you have to know the material and you have to deliver the material you know.

Because stress has a direct impact on your performance, it is essential that you learn how to recognize it and reduce it.

Make sure that the level of stress you experience when taking a test is not destructive. This is the key to your success.

But the test-prep industry doesn’t tell you that. The myth they perpetuate is that the only way to achieve higher scores is to learn more stuff.

Yet knowing more stuff is not enough. You have to perform well.

Up till now, no one has devised a clear, simple, and powerful method to teach people to do that.

I am a performance coach. My job is not to teach people how to memorize more, study better, or cram in more information. My job is to show you how to carry on in a test environment so that nothing impedes your performance.

My focus is on performance under pressure.

I will teach you to recognize stress when it starts building and then use specific tools to reduce it, on the spot. That’s the way you can stay in your “zone” and perform better every time.

My clients include a wide range of “performers.” I coach high school kids taking SATs, young adults taking LSATs, MCATs, DATs, GREs and finals, graduate students defending their doctoral dissertations, and lawyers taking the bar. I coach musicians, athletes and actors—people who face performance tests on a daily basis. I coach professionals in technical jobs, doctors, dentists, lawyers and nurses. I also coach creative people: writers, actors who have gone on to win major awards and prizes.

In working with these people, I have seen again and again how stress affects performance.

Sadly, I’ve watched the adventure of learning turn into a paralysis of shame when a bright high school student crumbled under the weight of intense competition and forgot what she knew on her calculus AP.

I have seen a mountain of time, energy and money bite the dust when an intelligent young lawyer failed the bar exam after his fourth try and gave up hope.

I saw how the fear of rejection made it impossible for a singer to share her gift with an audience.

On the other hand, I have also seen how people can overcome their handicap. I watched a student’s low SAT scores rise dramatically once he learned how to calm down during the test. I saw the utter joy of a rower when she finally learned how to focus her energy throughout the entire race.

I was particularly moved when I watched two parents build their son’s self-esteem instead of tearing it down, by relaxing their completely unrealistic expectations of him. Happily, everyone watched his SAT II scores improve.

Here’s an exercise.

Breathe out. Recall a test in which you did well. What did it feel like in the body? In the mind? In your breathing? Breathe out. Write down what come up for you.

Know this:  You did well before. You can do it again. There is a way and method to bring yourself to a place where you can perform well under pressure again and again in a consistent way. A calm, confident and focused way.

What happens to you when you study hard but perform poorly? What does that feel like? Why does it happen? What do you do about it?

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