Category Archives: Psychology

Every student and parent in the U.S. knows that there’s a lot of pressure on kids to be “smart.” In fact, intelligence is very cool right now—Gen Z, or everyone born in the mid-90s or later, is the most educated generation in American history. The hashtag #BookTok on TikTok, where readers share book-related content and bond over their love of reading, has over fifty billion views. Quintessentially geeky games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering are more popular now than they’ve ever been. If it’s brains versus brawn, brains are enjoying a winning streak these days. But society tends towards a pretty limited view of what intelligence really means. In our public school system, it’s easy to feel like you’re not smart if you can’t hack homework or ace tests. The SAT and ACT especially are mistaken for intelligence tests, even though they’re definitely not. Being book-smart is…

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For most of us, life consists of constant moments of analysis, definition, and reevaluation. Basically, we’re always trying to figure ourselves out. A strong sense of self can, in certain contexts, provide great clarity and comfort. Other times, however, we place ourselves in boxes that restrict our options and limit our successes. One of the great modern insights into achievement and success comes from psychologist Carol Dweck, who introduced the concept of mindset. Mindsets are essentially the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our abilities: — A fixed mindset believes that abilities are innate and static. — A growth mindset believes that abilities are able to be improved. Essentially, as the saying goes, if you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right. Since achievement depends so directly on mindset, we should be careful to cultivate a growth mindset in ourselves and others. Doing so, however, requires more…

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We’ve all heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” In fact, most of us are guilty of repeating that old bromide, typically to encourage some extremely imperfect activity. Nonetheless, this hoary oyster holds within a pearl of pure truth. Neuroscience tells us that practice makes perfect because of myelination. Our incredible brains never stop changing, which can be a bad thing depending on how we invest or squander our time. As they say, you are what you do, thanks to myelination. Everything we think, say, or do involves the firing of long chains of neurons in our brains. Myelin is an insulating tissue that forms a layer or sheath around the axon of a neuron. Apparently, myelin develops along neural pathways that fire over and over, and its function is to increase the speed of neural impulses along these pathways. In essence, the more we perform a certain task, the faster…

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Working in test prep is often inspiring because so many of our students are striving to surpass their personal bests to redefine what they are capable of achieving. Admissions exams are, by nature, challenging, in the way that all great tests are. The process of studying for a test should instill greater competence and understanding, just as rehearsing music cultivates virtuosity and practicing sports develops athleticism. If you’re feeling challenged, get psyched… that’s where real growth begins!

Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you? That was the subheader of a fascinating 2011 article in the New Yorker penned by an enlightened surgeon. Atul Gawande noticed how his surgical skills had plateaued in a predictable, professionally accepted way. While he was coming to terms with this presumably inevitable fact of life, he also experienced how impactful even a single lesson with a tennis pro was in improving his game. Then he connected the dots: “Not long afterward, I watched Rafael Nadal play a tournament match on the Tennis Channel. The camera flashed to his coach, and the obvious struck me as interesting: even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every élite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be. “But doctors don’t. I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at…

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No matter what else is happening in the world, the Olympics have always commanded attention. If you ever doubt the burning will to exceed all limits inherent in all of us, just look at the dedication these indomitable athletes exemplify. No spectacle captures the world’s imagination on such a grand scale. But we’re not tuning in to catch up on air rifle or luge or any of the other hundreds of sometimes obscure events (race walking… really?) we somehow ignore every other week of the year. No, we thrill to the competition, the effort, and the unquenchable commitment to win. Everyone on the path to their best test scores and grades can learn what being the best really requires from those who have paid the costs and reaped the rewards–including Gold Medals and enshrinement on boxes of Wheaties–of enduring excellence… “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams…

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