Tag Archives: focus

When one considers the many reasons why students fail to earn their test scores, each factor seems susceptible to a chemical solution. Depressants might take the edge off anxiety, whereas stimulants and study drugs could provide the boost needed to power through tough questions. Considering how complex and challenging some test questions can be, couldn’t the mind-expanding properties of psychedelics be a potent secret weapon. In a word, NO. Sure, you may say, some people sit for high stakes tests while drunk or high. Chelsea Handler famously admits to taking her SATs on acid, and things turned out very well for her. Then again, she didn’t even go to college. In fact, I couldn’t find any evidence of beneficial outcomes of controlled substance use during standardized testing. Even vaunted study drugs and cognitive enhancers hurt rather than help test performance. Non-prescription use of prescription drugs like Modafinil or Adderall impairs…

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Everyone thinks they can accomplish more by doing more at once. Unfortunately, almost everyone is wrong. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to kill productivity. Basically, switching focus to even a mundane task can double your error rate and lower your measurable IQ. So next time you’re studying for that big test, turn off the music, computer, phone, etc. etc. But if you’ve been insisting all these years that you’re different, you may be right. Studies support the idea that some lucky souls may actually be supertaskers, capable of juggling parallel tasks effectively. According to the research described in On supertaskers and the neural basis of efficient multitasking, some brains manage cognitive load more efficiently than others: Multitasking is mentally taxing and, therefore, should recruit the prefrontal cortex to maintain task goals when coordinating attentional control and managing the cognitive load. To investigate this possibility, we used functional…

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“Are the kids allowed to use sound blocking ear plugs during the SAT?” This question popped up recently in one of the many Facebook groups devoted to college admissions questions. The general understanding is that earplugs are absolutely forbidden on the tests, although my friend and colleague Pranoy Mohapatra shared the more pragmatic response: “Technically no… although it’s a rule many proctors are unaware of.” While I certainly agree that many proctors tend to be unaware of many important rules during these high stakes tests, the issue of earplugs is less familiar, so I did a little research. Interestingly, neither the current SAT Test Day Checklist nor ACT Test Day Checklist explicitly prohibits earplugs. [EDIT: Apparently, section 4b of the SAT Terms and Conditions expressly prohibits them. Looks like you have to read the fine print!] The initial question may raise another one, mainly, “Why should earplugs be prohibited in…

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Gum chewing’s fine every once in a while. It freshens your breath and brightens your smile. But the Oompa Loompas at Willy Wonka’s factory would have you thinking it was all downhill from there when, in fact, even a blueberry of a daughter may be chewing her way to an advantage over her non-chewing peers. A variety of studies have uncovered ways in which the act of chewing gum increases energy, focuses attention, improves performance, and reduces stress, all of which are keys to success on test day. Consider the facts: ENERGY Scientists at Coventry University found that subjects chewing mint gum felt less sleepy than those not chewing gum or practicing chewing without the gum (which sounds tiring). The Pupillographic Sleepiness Test (PST) confirmed that gum chewers were less sleepy than other subjects. The researchers could not, however, determine whether the reduction in daytime sleepiness resulted from heightened cerebral…

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What if I told you that you could become a virtuoso piano player in just one hour a week? Would you believe me if I promised you could play college basketball if you only work at it in the spare moments between more pressing commitments? How about fluency in a foreign language without ever having to practice? I hope, for your sake, that you find these claims dubious at best and, more likely, delusional. Clearly, nobody achieves greatness in any challenging endeavor with minimal effort or practice. Yet, every day, I encounter students, parents, and even other educators who imagine that amazing test scores can be earned with just one hour of instruction a week, whenever they can fit it in, without ever taking a practice test. For most students, this simply will not suffice. Sure, some high schoolers may ace the SAT without any prep, but these are usually…

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In a world full of distractions and diversions, how does anyone get anything done? No matter your field, you’ll find that focus separates average from exceptional. We all have twenty-four hour days, according to Zig Ziglar. “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem.” Direction, particularly the direction of attention on what matters most, doesn’t come easy. Teens struggle to focus in school and on tests, but adults often grapple all their lives with the same challenges. Fortunately, the will to focus on the right things can be improved, especially with the right techniques and practice. Dr. Joseph Cardillo, PhD knows more than a little bit about focus. He’s written several books on that and related topics while also authoring a regular column on Psychology Today. While such substantial output itself shows a healthy command of focus, Cardillo’s most concentrated contributions to the topic can be found in…

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