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How to use mindfulness to boost your standardized test performance
An expert's take on how to ace your exams through mindfulness.
- Being here and in the present is a necessity, if you want to excel in any situation.
- Author Logan Thompson explores in his new book how mindfulness is one of the most important aspects of test taking.
- Mindfulness is something that anyone can take up.
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful modes of thought we can harness. It's quite simple too. In short, it's a state of mind where we are conscious of the now and embrace our full range of experience in the present moment. That may be a rush of emotions and thoughts, or it could be the flow we find ourselves in when conducting a task.
The power of this simple state of mind cannot be understated. It's an untapped mental space that we're all privy to. While yogis and mystics have harnessed this practice for millennia, nowadays a great deal of people are also finding the benefits in applying mindfulness.
The application for this mode of thought is endless. That's why author, Logan Thompson, decided to start teaching his test prep students how to capitalize on it. He details this in his new book: Beyond the Content: Mindfulness as a Test Prep Advantage, where he explores his methods for banishing test anxiety, acing exams through awareness and accepting all order of emotions that arise in the flurry of everyday thought.
Big Think recently caught up with the author and got an inside look into the magic of mindfulness.
Beyond the Content
Thompson sets out the idea that the hardest part of taking a test stems from the stress, anxiety and self doubt we harbor. Academic instruction focuses on what he considers the other half of test prep, which is the standard content and strategy. That is, learning the material and applying it. Thompson doesn't believe that lack of proper studying or not comprehending the material is where the problem lies.
"Students keep talking about being a bad test taker. I really push back against that. I don't think that's true. What's most often happening is that students understandably have only been studying half of test prep, just the content and strategy part."
Thompson has created a metaphorical framework in the book where he explores how to tackle this other half of the test prep – the mindfulness and mental performance aspect.
Much of the problem stems from the stream of thoughts and emotions which are detracting students from performing their best on the test. Thompson labels these distracting feelings and thoughts as "passengers."
"We have thoughts that are frequent visitors and tell us we're not good enough, or if we fail this problem we'll fail the whole test. We all have passengers, like those in a car that are trying to take the wheel."
Thompson's solution is to unlock the "driver" of ourselves, or the parts of an individual's psyche that can bring about calmness, wisdom and intelligence. Passengers never go away. The goal isn't to get rid of them either, but to embrace the thought and put in its place for what it is.
Our minds are a cauldron of activity. When we start to practice something like mindfulness, sometimes conversely we can begin to get more anxious. We're realizing these negative thoughts are there and now we want to get rid of them. But the more we think and try, the more tangled it gets.
Thompson puts down the gas pedal on this metaphor through the whole book. When there is a synthesis of mindfulness and an interplay between our drivers and passengers, our mind gets us to where we need to be.
Methods of mindfulness for test prep
Logan was first drawn to the concept when he was in his early twenties. Books like The Power of Now and Wherever you go there you are, radically changed his perspective on life. After spending years meditating and attending mindfulness retreats, he realized that this way of thinking could be imparted on students, especially those anxious test takers.
"When I first drew a contrast to the 'present moment' and the past and future moments; and became aware of that potential distinction – it was intellectually mind blowing."
On the subject of the receptiveness from the students to this method, he spoke about how quickly they took to it. There was no resistance or defensiveness to try.
Thompson often uses paradoxical observations to detach the students from the outcome of worrying about what's going to happen. By planning to not be worried and to be calm during a test, students are actually preparing themselves to be anxious.
What our bodies and minds do now tends to form habits on what they're going to do next.
"if I want to be relaxed, calm, focused in this next moment, then I have to surrender being worried about the next moment and practice being within the now. The best predictor of how we're going to be in the next moment is this moment."
Awareness is the first step towards realignment.
"[Lack of awareness]... is like someone being behind the wheel and not realizing they've gone beyond the path. First open your eyes and see where you are. Then you have the choice to either stay on that path or jump on the path you want to be on."
These paths could be the choice to daydream or the choice to stay focused on the task at hand.
For teachers and parents that want to impart this onto their students and children, the best way to start is just to listen and open up a dialogue. Let students share with one another about the "passengers" that they hold in their minds and have them realize they're not alone.
They're not bad test takers. There's no reason to blame themselves. It's lack of awareness and the fact that they've never been taught the other half of the equation.
Once students get beyond the content, the state of mindfulness will bloom into so many other countless areas of life. And this goes for everyone, regardless of whether they're a student or not.
Pay attention to the mind, you might end up liking what you find
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>