Category Archives: Psychology

Happy New Year! The fresh slate of a new year inspires most of us to select some (or most) areas in our lives to improve in specific ways. From our position at the intersection of education and performance, we see lots of students looking for better grades and test scores, but, more generally, people aspire to better health, better jobs, better relationships, and better financial situations. Better does not come easy. Becoming better than you were in any dimension of your life may be a worthy goal. Staying better–being able to cast aside bad habits and develop new, more adaptive ones–is another thing entirely. How do we get and stay better in just about anything? Better takes a plan. Better takes time. Better takes practice. Better takes persistence. Better often takes help. Whatever your ambitions this year, we wish you luck in the accomplishment for your dearest goals. Let us…

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As we approach another Thanksgiving, thoughts naturally turn to what we feel grateful for. Another way to celebrate is to deeply consider why we should be grateful for those things in life we have to deal with, regardless of how much we like them. Few teens look forward to tests like the SAT and ACT; fewer still actually enjoy them. But do these exams represent a necessary evil or a golden opportunity? Imagine yourself as a high school student eager to attend selective institutions, access prestigious honors programs, or earn enough merit scholarship to defray the ever-rising cost of college. Now think about how you’d feel about your prospects if any or all of the following applied to you… …if your grades don’t reflect your ability. …if you suffered some academic setbacks along the way. …if your excellent grades are undermined by your school’s academic reputation. …if you couldn’t find…

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While American culture celebrates individual differences and promotes diversity, many of our societal systems struggle with anyone who deviates too far from an accepted norm. This can certainly be the case in school; the entire model of group instruction depends on cohorts that learn the same material in the same way at the same pace. Obviously, not every child fits this mold. Advancing understanding of the way humans think and learn has changed our dialogue around learning disabilities. Instead of framing challenges as disorders, we now look at divergence. Sociologist Judy Singer coined the term neurodiversity to describe “the limitless variability of human cognition and the uniqueness of each human mind.” Assuming that someone is disabled because he doesn’t learn the way his classmates does represents outdated beliefs that ignore what we’ve always accepted about people: disadvantages in some areas generally accompany advantages in other areas. Thus, neurodivergent simply describes…

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One of the great conundrums of human history has surely been how to motivate teens to do what society wants them to do rather than what they themselves want to do. Your average high schooler may happily spend marathon sessions practicing sports, playing games, or just scrolling through social media but still balk at ten minutes of homework or chores. Unsurprisingly, researchers have been delving the depths of student motivation for decades, exploring a variety of angles across age groups and cultures. Some of the findings aren’t that surprising either, though others seem rather unexpected. An overview of the current research encompassing over 144 studies and more than 79,000 students has been published as Pathways to Student Motivation: A Meta-Analysis of Antecedents of Autonomous and Controlled Motivations, and the key takeaways of this meta-analysis are powerful: Students’ self-determined motivation (acting out of interest, curiosity, and abiding values) is associated with…

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Most of what we commonly refer to as test anxiety is simply a function of unfamiliarity with a test and lack of confidence in performance. Sometimes, the terms also refers to a strong negative response to stress in a moment. Whatever its cause, test anxiety represents a serious obstacle to those who suffer from it, one that can almost always be overcome with the right strategies and practice. However, in some individuals, the source of test anxiety lies much deeper than basic nerves and negative self-talk. Sometimes, anxiety is genetic: A functional single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene (rs4680) is a gene variant that has been shown to predict the ability to maintain cognitive agility during combat and competition. Critically, COMT Met (low-activity; high dopamine) allele carriers outperform Val (high-activity; low dopamine) homozygotes on a variety of cognitive tasks. However, the relationship between genotype and cognitive performance appears…

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Any time test scores come back, some test takers invariably underperform relative to expectations just as sure as some NFL teams underperform during the first official week of football (I’m looking at you, Bills!) Often, the reasons driving these regrettable outcomes are very similar despite the dramatically different nature of the challenges. Sometimes, the problem lies in inadequate preparation. Sometimes, the problem comes down to insufficient commitment. The problem may be a sign of lack of persistence or a call for more coaching and practice. Bad outcomes may even be the result of factors outside of your control. No matter why a team loses or a test score comes back lower than expected or desired, the answer is always the same. press on. President Calvin Coolidge eloquently explained the necessity of tenacity and resolve: Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more…

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