Friday, February 13, 2009


The New York Times recently published an article that argues schools should not spend lots of money on dramatic interventionist techniques to raise test scores. Instead, just promoting student confidence can improve test scores significantly:

"Just telling students that their intelligence is under their own control improves their effort on school work and performance. In two separate studies, Mr. Aronson and others taught black and Hispanic junior high school students how the brain works, explaining that the students possessed the ability, if they worked hard, to make themselves smarter. This erased up to half of the difference between minority and white achievement levels."

This blows my mind. So does the fact that "Simply reminding blacks of their race before they take an exam leads them to perform worse, their research shows."

I can remember enjoying standardized test day when I was a kid. It was fun. My mom would usually make us cream of wheat instead of cold cereal for breakfast and when I got to school, we would all clear our desks and the room would be quiet and all we had to do was read some questions and color in the corresponding circle answer. And I knew I would know the answers. I had my nice sharp pencils to color in my neat little circles on the score sheet, and the confidence that I would finish early and do well. (Sometimes I would pretend that it was my job to take the test and my boss wanted the circles to be really perfect and also I needed to have good posture.) Doing well on tests -- from the Iowa Basics to the LSAT pretty much happened because I'm blessed with the ability to read very quickly, and I knew, when in doubt, to guess C, and I didn't psyche myself out.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming testing genius. I was not getting perfect scores or anything like that -- particularly on the LSAT! I'm just saying that I think my scores reflect my confidence in test taking as much as they reflect my ability.

I wish I could transfer that confidence to writing a dissertation. Standardized tests are a walk in the park for me compared to empty pages that need to be filled with brilliant insight and nuanced analysis. It is far more intimidating and I get much less positive feedback. But still, it's not like there is some dramatic intervention I can do tomorrow that can miraculously turn me into a better writer or a better thinker. At a certain point, it's all about confidence.

Maybe if I focus on having best posture while I work...


  1. Is it really bragging to say I used to be good at school but now I suck? I was a confident child but now I am an anxious and neurotic adult. These are facts, not brags!