The “I’m not a good test taker!” Mindset

Have you ever heard someone say “I’m not a good test taker!” or “I’m no good at pen-writing-notes-studying.jpgexams.”?

A common myth is “Only some people are able to be good at taking tests -and I’m not one of them.” Their perception of reality shines through three key words in the sentence: “able” and ” I’m not”.  A frame of mind exists that leads the person to believe they are “not able to do good.”

How does someone get to have a “poor test-taker” mindset about themselves?

Sometimes this “limiting belief” comes from an internal interpretation of past poor performance on exams. Perhaps their test-taking is after a seemingly large amount of studying beforehand that didn’t bring the hoped-for results. Over time, a person may hear something similar from more than one family member or friend. For example, have you have ever heard someone say they just can’t do math?  It can be passed on in classrooms when teachers say they aren’t good at math or a parent to a child when they say that they were never good at school.

pexels-photo-736843.jpegThis “truth” grows over time and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – the more one thinks they can’t do something, the more they don’t achieve it.  So much so that a student continues to enter into test taking mode with clouds of doubt, anxiety, or low motivation to study. Depending upon whether they care about the grade or have given up, a student may even put on outwardly displays of  an “I don’t care” attitude.

The limiting belief of a fixed mindset is a key topic in Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2016.)  Briefly – some people have a FIXED mindset that describes a belief that we are who we are and our capacities are not moveable. They believe that talent is what we are born with and that some people are good at school and some not.

Remember when IQ scores where commonly alluded to in education?  It was one ill-informed reason people held to a line of general intelligence that was connected to the concept that we had a fixed ability to learn.

Dweck establishes a clear case for the positive impact of a GROWTH mindset, which is the idea that people are born with basic qualities that “are things you can cultivate with your efforts, your strategies, and help with others.” (Dweck, 2016) In reality – people really do better in school, business, parenting, and relationships with the understanding that they have the capacity to learn and grow.

SHIFT the mindset – CHANGE the results!!   

Tests are simply one way to assess what a student recalls at that moment in time using the format selected by the teacher. People learn differently and they also may need to express their learning and understanding differently too.

The way to better test results – and improved learning experiences – is using your efforts to develop new strategies for learning!  The “others” who can help you or someone care about – are teachers who’ve learned the newer approaches for learning strategies. If not a teacher, consider an academically trained coach who is knows how to engage learners in multi-sensory study strategies and active learning techniques.

AND if motivation had been lacking…motivation can grow when new ways of studying make learning reachable and possible!

Plus ideas like Grit presented by Angela Duckworth in her book of the same name, add fuel to shifting how we think of ourselves and what it takes to do well at a task – such as learning and assessments or tests.   More on motivation and grit in the future!


Published by Pam Schoessling: Academic, Career, and Life Coach

I am passionate about helping people reach their potential at school and find fulfillment in their work. With over 10 years experience coaching, teaching, or advising high school and college students, I also am trained in career planning with design thinking for creating a visionary action plan to move forward. A Master's degree in Education and over 6 years of coach training programs round out my readiness and skills for increasing students' capacity for both achievements​ AND enjoying the journey along the way.

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