With the discussion of stress usually comes the question of nature vs. nurture, which is always, always brought up in an attempt to answer the millions of questions about human behavior.
The article goes on to explain how well students did on practice GREs after being presented with a statement regarding anxiety, right before they were to take their test.
“Half of the students, however, were also given a statement declaring that recent research suggests ‘people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.’ Therefore, if the students felt anxious during the practice test, it said, ‘you shouldn’t feel concerned. . . simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well.’”
After reading this, their scores increased not only for the practice exam they took after reading that statement, but also for the real GRE exam they took a few months after. They also discovered that after taking saliva examples before and after the practice test that there were physiological changes in their body’s response to stress. I can’t say anything about the biochemical aspects of stress, but I do think that the nature vs. nurture question can’t and shouldn’t be answered with one or the other because they both affect each other.
There was one thing that was ALMOST asked but not quite asked in the article, which is why students including 4th graders are placing such high emphasis on those tests. That fear doesn’t just come from nowhere. There is something personal at stake. But where does that kind of emphasis come from? Do 4th graders really have the insight to see 16 years ahead to se what potential consequences those exams have in the real world? Not to say whether or not they do or don’t determine future path trajectory, but students have chosen those exams as the beast to beat. It is not the difficulty of learning concepts or material in the classroom that makes them worried, it is strictly those exams.
The difficulty with trying to draw conclusions from these experiments is that even though tangible, hard facts (like the saliva test) are introduced, in the end, the one thing being measured is performance. And as such, students have LEARNED that performance is solely measured in these tests, not in the classroom. The article doesn’t talk about the anxiety students get when they can’t understand or grasp a concept. And who can blame them? They’ve thought about the context of their situation more than anyone else. They are a step ahead of their teachers. While professors might be occupied with whether students are grasping the material or not, students are wondering, “Do I need to know this for the test? For the class? For my career?” If it doesn’t help them get their first internship or that entry level job, then why waste time with it?
Still, I think that the skill of dealing with stress properly isn’t emphasized enough, maybe because parents and teachers aren’t sure what the answer to that is. Or maybe it’s because of the nature of how standardized tests are set up in the first place. Just from personal observation, I can tell you that the one and only thing that college students look for when they get the syllabus on the first day of class is how the grade percentages are partitioned. If homework is only 5% of 10% of the class grade while the two midterms are around 80%, why shouldn’t the homework just be sloppily done an hour before class? If a student can correctly take experimental data to get points for in-lab procedure without actually knowing why they are taking those measurements in the first place, then maybe the way those labs are being set up are wrong.
Of course students are going to only care about the grade. Their entire performance is based solely on that letter.
The NY Times makes a good point of how dealing with stress now affects how it will be dealt with in the future. I think a necessary skill which is never taught is the skill to filter out NOISE, or that which is not important. So much of life is just noise; empty conversations that are really just bullshitting, misdirected energy and attention, overestimation of unimportant things, chores in place of real work. All that stuff is filler. And it is important to know what things are truly worth in the larger context. And to know that there are millions of chances to do over again. To have the ability to gauge what is truly at stake. So if homework is only worth 5% in the class, then maybe it’s just noise.