Is the Key to Testing Not to Think?

By Bryan Toporek — August 06, 2010 1 min read

Two months ago, Jose Vilson of the Teacher Leaders Network wrote about what educators can learn from baseball. We’ve got another addition to make.

Before Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees became only the seventh player in baseball history to hit 600 career home runs on Wednesday, A-Rod had been stuck in a homer-less slump for 46 straight at-bats. According to the New York Times, A-Rod has averaged a home run once every 14.5 at-bats in his career.

In an opinion piece in the Times, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert dove into an explanation of A-Rod’s sudden struggles at the plate:

One of the ironies of human psychology is that desperately wanting something can make attaining that thing all the more difficult. When stakes go up, performance often goes down...This is because we pay close attention to what we're doing when what we're doing matters, and though close attention is helpful when our task is novel or complex, it is positively destructive when our task is simple and well practiced.

That leads me to wonder...Could the same psychological principle apply to test-taking? Should teachers be downplaying the importance of tests to their students in case the students are subconsciously psyching themselves out?

Do you believe students routinely get caught in the trap of overthinking when they’re taking tests? (Speaking from experience...I was absolutely one of those students.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.