Posts published in March, 2012

Confidence Can Overcome Test Anxiety



One of the worst things that can happen to you on a test is to be flooded by a tsunami of negativity about yourself. If you start thinking, “I can’t handle this,” the self-fulfilling prophecy will come true: you’ll give the wrong answer.

A good test will have items that are different from and more difficult than the ones you studied. If all the questions were easy and exactly what you expected, you wouldn’t have to think; you’d just memorize everything and then spit it out at test time.  Remember: a good exam will test your confidence.

“Confidence” is made up of two roots: “con,” which means “with,” and “fidence,” which means “faith,” “loyalty,” and “belief in.” When you’re self-confident you believe in yourself. And when the going gets rough–when you hit that tough test item–you stay loyal to yourself and you work through it as best you can. You don’t jump ship.

In performance terms, confidence has to do with what’s going on in your mind–one of the three key players of your “inner team” (the other two are your body and your spirit). Your mind is like your inner bleachers.  You want the fans to cheer you on, not turn against you.  But regaining confidence isn’t just cheerleading. It’s a careful, three-step process–one that athletes use regularly in sport psychology mind training.

Step one:  Close your eyes and imagine a mirror in front of you.

See in the mirror an image of your highest self–you at your best. Confide in the mirror. Tell it the negative sentence that’s running around in your head (“I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have what it takes”).

Step two: See the mirror respond. It says something accurate and positive about you in response to what you just said. “I know you’re capable” or “You’ve worked through difficult challenges before.”  Take in that message.

Step three: Envision yourself taking a series of small, manageable steps successfully to correct the negativity.

If you come to an item on a math test that looks, at first glance, too hard, you may think, “I’ll never get the right answer.” Immediately use the three steps. First,  confide in the mirror. Tell it the negative self-statement. Next, watch as the mirror reflects back an accurate, positive statement about you.  Finally, envision the small steps you can take.  These small steps might be (1) calm down with three deep breaths,

(2) reread the question slowly, (3) jot down what you know, (4) work through the answer step-by-step, and (5) eliminate wrong answers. Even if you really don’t know the answer, you’ll be in a better position to make the best guess possible and be able to continue with the next questions.

Why does this three-step process work?  Often we act like we’re confident when we’re really not. We think everyone else is confident, so we hide our self-negativity. This disconnect causes stress. It’s much better to identify the negative thought and turn it around. Then we can see that the way out of any problem is not to be Superman. He could “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We humans have to work ourselves, step by step, out of any challenge we are in.

One caution: you need to practice these tools while you study.  Then they will work for you at test time.  When your calculus assignment seems too complicated, you’re reviewing a historical period that’s filled with too many names, or you are setting up a science experiment that appears too daunting, practice the three-step process and regain your confidence. Then when test time rolls around, you’ll be ready. You’ll say, “Bring it on,”

rather than “Get me out of here.”


Ben Bernstein, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and performance coach, He is the author of Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test  (Spark Avenue Publishing, 2012).




Lumina Releases Major Report on College Attainment

‘Stronger Nation’ 2012 released
Modest gains in U.S. college attainment rates revealed; progress must be accelerated 
Lumina Foundation’s latest Stronger Nation report shows we must do significantly more to build on the modest gains in U.S. higher education attainment.

For the first time ever, postsecondary attainment data for the nation’s 100 largest metro areas will be reported. Detailed breakdowns of college attainment data are available at the national, state and county level.

  Experts Gather on Capitol Hill to Release Latest College Attainment Report

Findings in Stronger Nation report released.
Watch highlights from the news conference. »
Read the report »
Read the news release »
Interact with Stronger Nation data »

Obama Plan To Lower Cost Of Higher Education May Not Work


Devil’s in the details of Obama plan to punish pricey

By Jon Marcus, The Hechinger

When Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville raised its price by 59
percent, it landed directly in the crosshairs of the Obama administration.
Under a plan proposed by President Barack Obama in his state-of-the-union
address in January, universities and colleges like SIUE that increase what they
charge students at the fastest rates would forfeit their eligibility for some
federal financial-aid money. “Let me put colleges and universities on notice,”
the president said. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you
get from taxpayers will go down.”

High Schools Increase Student College Planning

Career Mapping Eyed to Prepare Students for College
About half of all states mandate that schools help create individual or student learning plans, and most others have optional programs. The practice is picking up momentum with the increased emphasis on college completion, which research shows is more likely when students take rigorous courses and have a career goal. But these career maps take an investment in technology and training.
(Education Week, premium article access compliments of, 03/23/12)

Does College Primarily Help Richer Students?

Guest blogger : Angelita Williams

Do colleges offer the most opportunity to students of wealthy families? That’s a serious question posed in a recent article for The New York Times, which contends that many institutions of higher learning simply assure that students from higher income families retain their privileged status in America. The article asserts that nearly a quarter of the people who hold a bachelor’s degree come from families whose earning far exceed the average income for an American family.

The article further goes on to disarm the common contention that colleges boast a plurality of students from higher earning families simply because their test scores on exams like the SAT and ACT are higher on average. The author, Thomas B. Edsall, contends that these test scores don’t necessarily qualify the state of affairs, as more economically privileged youths with high exam scores are more likely to enter college than poorer students who score equally well. The rest of his article is devoted to a clear, empirical study about the quiet perpetuation of a privileged class within the college system. It’s quite a compelling article.

So what do we make of this information, assuming that everything in the article checks out? How do we reconcile the very real possibility that many college campuses don’t treat all students equally?

From a fiscal perspective, this article makes some sense. The cost of college is only increasing, and with student loan interest rates showing no sign of decreasing, it puts an unbelievable economic strain on students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Many students have to take on tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loans if they want to earn their bachelor’s degree, a choice that could weigh on their professional life well after their time at a university. What’s more, the wages for entry level jobs has been steadily decreasing, which means that it will be harder for recent college grads to make payments on loans even after they’re hired.

With such a potentially daunting financial situation facing many college students, it’s no wonder that many of the ones who graduate are those who can afford to pay their debts quickly. As long as a college education remains such an expensive and risky endeavor, it will always favor wealthier individuals or those with more resources who can afford the risk. College education shouldn’t be about perpetuating a class of people who don’t even need their degree in the first place. It should be about providing opportunity to those who need and yearn for it the most.

What’s your take on the story?


This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses.  She welcomes your comments at her email ID: angelita.williams7


Pell Grants Need to Focus on Completion As Well As Access

Issue Brief: The Role of Pell Grants in Access, Persistence
& Completion

A recent issue brief from the National Association of Student Financial Aid
Administrators examines the shifting policy emphasis from access to completion
and its effect on financial aid aimed at low-income students. “The Role of Pell
Grants in Access, Persistence & Completion” suggests that completion, rather
than access to higher education, is the new driver of postsecondary policy and
argues that need-based financial aid programs may need to partner with
effective student support services in the near future to ensure continued
public support for low-income and first-generation students.

Prediction That More Colleges Will Close


Kevin Carey writes in The
New Republic
: The historic stability of higher education is
remarkable. As former University of California President Clark Kerr once
observed, the 85 human institutions that have survived in recognizable form for
the last 500 years include the Catholic Church, a few Swiss cantons, the
Parliaments of Iceland and the Isle of Man, and about 70 universities. The
occasional small liberal arts school goes under, and many public universities
are suffering budget cuts, but as a rule, colleges are forever. I think that
rule is going to change, and soon.

From Carnegie Foundation

This blog gets high ranking

The College Puzzle Blog was named
in the list of <a href=””>50 insightful college admissions blogs. This is a good list of many types of college blogs, not just admissions focus.

Test Anxiety? Stay Calm



Ben Bernstein, Ph.D.

         Here’s a myth: test anxiety is caused by one’s thinking.  In thirty years of coaching college student, I’ve heard many say, “I’m in a panic because I don’t think I’ll remember everything.” However, these are two separate phenomena: (1) you’re in a panic, and (2) you don’t think you’ll remember everything. The panic relates to what’s happening with your body. The negative thought-“I don’t think I’ll remember everything”-is what’s going on in your mind. While the two are connected, you need to deal with each one separately in order to achieve test success. In this post I’ll address how physical tension and bodily disturbance trigger or worsen test anxiety. I’ll also give you key study tips that will guide you to develop better study skills. If you practice, them you will calm down and move a big step toward getting the scores you deserve.

When I watch students take tests, I see quite a few of them hunching their shoulders, tensing their foreheads, tightening their  jaws, bobbing their legs up and down, wrapping their feet around their chairs, and chewing their pencils. I also see many of them frequently stopping their breath as they read exam questions. They have that deer-in-the-headlights look and everything freezes.

Freezing or tensing as you are taking a test will hurt you. A test is an ongoing, timed event. Imagine being in the middle of a basketball game and a teammate passes you the ball but you are too tense to catch it, run with it, or pass it. Athletes have to be loose and ready rather than tight and distracted. An athlete playing his or her top game is calm.

Taking a cue from sports psychology, a test taker can use the same three tools that athletes use to maintain that calm state. You don’t have to be defeated by stress.

The first tool is breathing.  When I ask students to take a deep breath they usually inflate their lungs and puff up their chests. This is a “fight or flight” breath.  The breath that will help you stay calm goes deeper. Place your hands on your belly, and as you inhale feel your belly gently push out.  Don’t force anything, just do it in a nice and easy way. Inhale and let your belly expand; exhale and let the air out. Do this three times. This will immediately reduce your stress level. While it may not erase your stress (remember, your mind and your spirit are also involved), it will go a long way in helping you stay calm. When you stop your breath your brain thinks you’re dying and your stress level goes off the charts.  Train yourself to keep your breath deep and steady throughout the test. I always advise students to write the word “Breathe” as a reminder on the top of the exam booklet or answer sheet. This is a powerful study technique as well.

The second tool is grounding. This involves simply feeling the chair and floor supporting you. While studying for an exam or taking one, you can get lost in your head and literally lose touch with where you are. Grounding helps you stay present.  Grounding also includes relaxing any tension in your body. Test stress can do weird things to your body. Your wrinkled brow or tense shoulders aren’t helping you answer questions. Let them go.

The third tool is sensing, which involves employing one of your senses to help you stay calm. During a test, it can be helpful to enlist your sense of touch. Feel the clothing on your body, feel the pencil in your hand, feel the weight of your arms on the desk.

As you can tell, the three tools for staying calm-breathing, grounding and sensing-are all designed to keep you present.  You know what they say at raffles: “You have to be present to win.” It’s the same with tests. Calm down and put yourself in the present. Then you can think, answer questions, say goodbye to stress, and have test success within your grasp.



Ben Bernstein, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and performance coach, He is the author of Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test  (Spark Avenue Publishing, 2012).



College Reports Worth Reading From ECS




Census Bureau Reports on Educational Attainment (U.S. Census Bureau, February 2012)

Degreeless in Debt: What Happens to Borrowers Who Drop Out (Education Sector, February 2012)

Serving Students, Serving California: Updating the California Community Colleges to Meet Evolving Demands (Little Hoover Commission, February 2012)

Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Pre-Degree Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, February 2012) This last one is especially interesting to me.