What to do if you fail the exam? – growth mindset

failure-sucess

Back in 2011 I wrote about what to do if you fail an exam, it’s one of my most read blogs. Last week I delivered an online presentation for the ACCA, (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) on how having a growth mindset can help improve your chances of passing an exam, the very opposite of failing. But that is partly the point, very few successful people have never failed, in fact coping with failure is one of the reasons they ultimately succeed.   Having the “right mindset” can not only help you pass, it can give direction and motivation if you fail.

Mindset

The term “growth mindset” was coined by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She became fascinated as to why some children shrink in the face of problems and give up, while others avidly seek challenges, almost as a form of inspiration. What she discovered was that the type of mindset students held was at the heart of these two differing views. This search for resilience in the face of challenge and adversity has become her life’s work and something that has guided her research for over 40 years.

Fixed – When students have a fixed mindset, they tend to believe abilities are carved in stone, that you have a certain amount of let’s say talent or intelligence and that’s that. They perceive challenges as risky, that they could fail, and their basic abilities called into question. And the fact that they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism is just proof their views were correct in the first place.

Growth – In contrast, when students have more of a growth mindset, they believe that talents and abilities can be developed and that challenges were one way of doing this. Learning something new and difficult was in fact the way you get smarter. Setbacks and feedback are not seen as confirmation of frailty but as information that could be used to improve.

This does not mean that people with a growth mindset think talent doesn’t exist or that everyone is the same. To them it’s more a belief that everyone can get better at whatever they do, and improve through hard work and learning from mistakes.

How can you develop a growth mindset?

The good news is that you can develop a growth mindset, but just to be clear, the world is not divided into those with a growth mindset and those with a fixed one, a mindset is not a character trait. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in one area but there can still be a thought or event that acts as a trigger and moves you into a fixed one. The secret is to work on understanding your triggers so that you’re able to stay in a growth mindset more often.

Beliefs – ask, what you believe about yourself and the subject you are studying. Do you believe you are below average, not very clever or that the subject or topic you are studying too hard? If this is the case you have wandered into a fixed mindset. What you believe is neither true nor false. What we can say is that it’s certainly not “helpful” to believe you are not clever, and is not what someone with a growth mindset would do.

Talent and effort – thinking that people are either naturally talented or not, is a classic example of being in a fixed mindset. You may never be top of your class but you can improve, and this is achieved by making more effort and working harder.

Positive self-talk – we all have voice inside our head, it’s called your inner speech. It has a significant impact on what you believe and how you behave. If you find your inner speech is telling you to give up or that you will never understand a particular topic or subject, change your voice, tell it off, and then say something more positive. Dweck says that just by adding NOT YET to the end of your statement can help. For example, I don’t understand portfolio theory – at least NOT YET.

The importance of mindset and failure

If you have failed an exam or just sat one and believe you have failed, I have two pieces of advice.

Firstly, on the whole students are not the best judge of their own performance. They tend to reflect on what they didn’t understand or thought they got wrong rather than what they might have got right. As a result, you may have done better than you think and are worrying about nothing.

Secondly, if you do fail, you have a choice as to what this might mean. On the one hand, it might simply be confirmation of what you already know, that you are not very good at this subject or clever enough to pass. Alternatively, you could move to a growth mindset, recognising that you have slipped into a fixed one.  Find out what areas you need to work harder on, and start again.

Everyone has to deal with failure, it’s what you do when you fail that matters most.

Advertisements

Mr/Madam President – who has had the best education

trump-clinton

I would like to return to the idea that education has to play a part in forming an individual, their views and ultimately who they are. In April 2015 I considered the educational experiences of the leaders of the different political parties in the UK. I concluded that in my opinion, Nick Clegg followed by Nigel Farage probably had the “best” education. The logic being they had both been exposed to a variety of views, opinions and cultures, whilst many of the so-called career politicians had relatively insular academic journeys. Given the recent US elections I thought it might be interesting, post results to see how the two presidential wannabes Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump compared.

Donald Trump

young-donald-trump-military-schoolDonald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York, the fourth of five children of Frederick C. and Mary MacLeod Trump. Frederick Trump was of German descent, a builder and real estate developer, who left an estimated $250-$300m. His Mother was from the Scottish Isle of Lewis. Trumps early years were spent at Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills, a fee-paying school in Queens. From there aged 13 he went to the New York Military Academy, leaving in 1964. Fordham University was his next stop but for only two years before moving to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1968 with a degree in economics. After leaving Wharton Trump went onto to focus full time on the family businesses, he is now said to be worth $3.7bn.

As to how good or successful Donald Trump was as a student or in fact as to his achievements whilst at school, it is difficult to establish. Trump claims he was best in his class, and yet there are no records of this being the case. What we can say is that he did not graduate with honours. In addition, some claim that the only reason he got into Wharton was after an interview with a “friendly” Wharton admissions officer who was a classmate of Trump’s older brother.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance, I’m, like, a really smart person.”

The most telling comment, and one I will use by way of summary is that Trumps favourite lecture was from a Wharton Professor, who argued that the essence of good business was to understand the desires and even the psychologies of those on the other side of the negotiating table.

Hillary Clinton
hillory-cHillary Rodham Clinton was born October 26, 1947, Chicago, Illinois. She was the eldest child of Hugh and Dorothy Rodham. Her father, a loyal Republican, owned a textile business which provided a “comfortable income”. Hillary’s mother who met Hugh Rodham whilst working as a company clerk/typist did not have a college education unlike her father. However Dorothy Rodham is said to have had a significant impact on Hillary and believed that gender should not be a  barrier.

Clinton’s academic career is far more traditional:

  • Eugene Field Elementary School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1953-1957.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1957-1961
  • Maine Township High School, East and South, Park Ridge, 1961-1965
  • Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1965-1969. As Senior Class president, Hillary Clinton became the first student speaker at graduation. Click to listen to the speech
  • Yale Law School, New Haven, Connecticut, 1969-1972. It was at Yale that she met Bill hillary-clinton-schoolClinton, they married in 1975. She graduated with a JD in Law and had a paper published in the Harvard review, under the title  “Children Under the Law”.

 Ambitious at one point to become an astronaut, she wrote to NASA and received a response that stunned her when she was informed that women were not accepted for the astronaut program.

After leaving Yale, she joined a small law firm, and in 1979 became a full partner at the Rose Law Firm. She was twice named in the list of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.”

And the winner is……

This is a far more difficult decision than looking at the UK leaders. There it was easier to see a clear distinction between those that had a broader educational experience compared to the more insular establishment bubble.

Of course, it could be argued that Clinton has followed this more traditional/establishment path, but she is self-made, having come from a relatively ordinary background and given the evidence has a far broader academic journey and the better academic record. Trump on the other hand was born into a very wealthy family but has made his way in the business world, much like Nigel Farage, he went to the university of life. An interesting comparison!

Perhaps the answer lies not so much in what you learned at school but in your ability to continue learning. The one that has had the best education will be the one who is willing to listen and continually learn, and on that basis, I think I know who my winner would be. For Hillary Clinton there is clearly much to reflect upon, but for Donald Trump I worry he has forgotten what learning is all about, lets hope not.

True Grit – Passion and persistence

True Grit“They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit.” So says Mattie Ross in the 1969 film True Grit staring John Wayne. But what exactly does the young Mattie Ross actually mean, what is grit?

Well maybe Angela Duckworth can answer this, she is the author of a book called, Grit, the power of passion and perseverance.

IQ, EQ and Grit

Many will be familiar with IQ (The Intelligent Quotient). It was developed by Alfred Binet around 1911. Not to measure intelligence so that individuals can demonstrate superiority over others, but to identify under performers so that remedial action could take place. Then in 1995 Daniel Goleman wrote about the Emotional Quotient (EQ) or Emotional Intelligence. The idea that individuals can recognise their own, and other people’s emotions, discriminate between different feelings and use this emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. This idea has enjoyed some success and helped people shift their focus towards valuing something other than simply being clever.

Grit in a way makes a similar point. If we took at a group of highly successful individuals, what qualities would they have, what would it be that made them so successful? Would it be intelligence, maybe a high EQ or is it something else. Angela Duckworth found that it was grit, which she defines as having a passion and persistence for long term goals.

Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’

Gritty people work hard, but they are doing this with a long term goal in mind.  They also find their work meaningful, important and interesting.

I’ve never interviewed someone who was truly world class in what they do, who didn’t say in the first five minutes “I love what I do”.

You can become grittier

To learn how to become “more gritty” we need to bring in Carol Dweck. A professor of psychology from Stanford University. Dweck coined the phrase a growth mind set and identified two groups of people. One those who believe their success is based on innate ability, a fixed mindset and two, those who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness a growth mindset.

The logic being that you are more likely to develop grit if you have a growth mindset. This is because if you fail, rather than giving up, you see it as a learning experience and continue to work hard towards your long term goal. Dweck even uses the term doggedness, often described as someone who has an obstinate determination or persistence.

Grit and exam success

I would argue that examination success has far less to do with intelligence and more to do with grit. This is not to say that passing an exam does not require intelligence just that along the way most will face some form of failure and having a growth mindset together with a large dollop of grit is more likely to result in success.

Think about the following:

  • You don’t have to be the cleverest person to pass the exam
  • It is possible to learn most things – if you work hard
  • It’s a marathon not a sprint – failing an exam can be a setback but that’s all, pick yourself up and carry on
  • Be clear what your long term goal is – three years to pass an exam is a long time but your goal is probably much longer. Passing the exam is only part of the journey
  • You may not at first find the work meaningful, but almost everything you learn can be interesting

Find out your grit score

If you would like to find out what your grit score is then click here, it will take less than a minute and you get immediate feedback.

John Wayne also said

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.

A growth mindset perhaps.

Stress or Pressure – Don’t let the bridge collapse

Releasing PressureI have long been interested in the way knowledge from one domain can help inform another and have had two very good examples of this recently, both leading in the same direction.

 

 

The first came from an engineering friend of mine who started a conversation about the meaning of stress and pressure in his world. He described stress and pressure as essentially the same except being applied in different forms. Pressure is applied on the external surface of a body, while stress is the internal resistive force per unit area of that body, which resists its elongation or compression.

Alternatively – Stress is generated within the material whereas pressure is the applied force.

The second example came from a stress management seminar* I recently attended, not so abstract you might say but it wasDont let the bridge collapse the analogy the presenter used that was interesting. He asked that we thought of a bridge, the cars going over the bridge created pressure on the bridge and as a result the bridge would experience stress.

No matter how strong the bridge, there was a point that if too many cars were on at any one time it would collapse.

How does this help?

Analogies can be very helpful where it’s difficult to conceptualise or understand complex ideas. For example the bridge will show signs of stress before it collapses. This is no different for people; signs of stress will be present well before the stress levels are high enough to cause problems e.g. short temper, lack of sleep, headaches etc.  Also if we carry on with the analogy, there are two ways in which you can make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse. One, don’t have so many cars on the bridge and two, support the bridge so that it can take more cars. This translates into reducing the number of external pressures you are under (less cars) and having coping strategies to help when you are under pressure (some support).

Pressures when studying

A lot of pressures when studying are time related, for example taking on too many subjects or having to study as well as holding down a responsible job.  But some pressure might be created by the way you feel about yourself, not being capable or clever enough. Also people often put themselves under pressure – interesting term “putting yourself under pressure” by having very high expectations or maybe those expectations are put upon them by others.

The simple answer – take some of the cars off the bridge, reduce the number of subjects your studying, lower your expectations etc. This is not to say that having high expectations is not good, but if it is affecting your performance in a negative way, then you have to do something. And I know it may not be easy to do this in all circumstances; do you step down from that responsible job, how practical is that?  Yet if you do nothing, the bridge will collapse and that has to be avoided at all costs.

The alternative to taking cars off the bridge is to add in extra support.

Strategies to cope

Lazarus and Folkman in 1984 suggested that stress is the result of an “imbalance between demands and resources” or results when “pressure exceeds one’s perceived ability to cope”. They came up with two types of coping responses.

Emotion-focused – These techniques work very well when the stress is or at least appears to be outside the individual’s control.

  • Keep yourself busy to take your mind off the issue – just keep working through the course
  • Let off steam to other students/partners, anyone who will listen in fact
  • Pray for guidance and strength – and why not
  • Ignore the problem in the hope it will go away – not always ideal but the problem may sort itself
  • Distract yourself – go for a run
  • Build yourself up to expect the worse – “I will probably fail anyway”

Problem-focused – These techniques aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stress.  These are similar to taking cars off the bridge.

  • Take control – being out of control is often the cause of much stress. Revaluate what the problem is, and ask is it worth it!
  • Information seeking, perhaps the most rational action. Find out what is causing the problem and look to solve it e.g. why do you have such high expectations, does it help?
  • Make a list, evaluate the pros and cons and put in order of importance.

Studying can be stressful and this can result in feeling under pressure but this is not altogether a bad thing stress and pressure are key motivational forces, so don’t think of stress as the enemy but watch out for any cracks that might appear in the bridge.

Watch this TED – Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend.

Related posts – Exam stress – or is it your stress and Exam stress Mindfulness and the “7/11”

* The course was delivered by the stress management societyclick here for their website.

Big fish – little pond

Best be a Big fish in a Small pond

It’s taken me a little time to get round to reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell (MG) book, David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. Although consisting of three separate sections they all examine the idea of what it means to have an advantage and how we account for the success of the underdog.

Of all the ideas MG lays before the reader, the one I felt was of most interest is something called the big fish little pond effect (BFLPE) and the theory of relative deprivation.

Relative deprivation theory (RDT)

Relative deprivation refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realise they have less. e.g. I judge BMW ownermyself to be successful on the basis I have a brand new car that cost £15,000.  That is until my neighbour pulls on the drive with a brand new BMW costing £30,000, now how successful do I feel?

MG applies this theory to the world of academia. If you take Harvard’s Economics PhD programme and consider the number of times each PhD graduate was published in the last 6 years, Harvard’s top students will do this 4.31 times. Those that are about 5th or 6th in the class publish .71 times and those that are about average .07 times. If however you compare these results to a “mediocre” school, say the University of Toronto, where MG went,  the top students will publish 3.13 times, those that are 5th or 6th .29 times and those that are average .05 times. The point being that students who attend a much lesser university but where they are top of their group perform considerably better than the 5/6th best at Harvard. The question is why?

The smarter your peer group the dumber you feel…..

This is where RDT comes in, we tend to judge our ability by comparing with others, and if you are in a class with very smart people who always do better than you, your perception of your own ability will be effected. The second problem is that this self perception will have a significant impact on your behaviour and ultimately what you achieve, hence the results above. The implication, you will achieve more if you are in a class with others of equal or less ability than yourself.

Bottom line, your performance will improve if you are a big fish in a small pond. It’s even called, the big fish little pond effect (BFLPE)

But what to do?

Admittedly you can’t always pick and choose your peer group, but you can be aware that comparing yourself with the very best may be having a detrimental impact on your own performance, so stop doing it! Instead be inspired by the best but compare your performance with those that are the same as you. Better still compare your current performance with what YOU have achieved in the past and if you are doing better you must be improving…..

David-and-Goliath-Malcolm-Gladwell

 

Listen to MG talking about relative deprivation theory or if you prefer the Big Fish little pond theory….

 

Listen to MG being interviewed about the book

Reflection/Goals/Planning……Inspiration and bravery

2013_time100_yousafzaiIt’s nearly the start of a New Year 2014, traditionally a time for both reflection, taking stock of what went well/not so well and looking forward to what the future might hold. On the whole this is a healthy process, looking back gives you chance to put things into perspective and hopefully learn a few lessons, whilst looking forward gets you thinking about what you might like to happen and set goals to make those events more likely.

Looking back on 2013, one event that stood out for me was the nomination of Malala Yousufzai for the Nobel peace prize in November 2013*. It is not the nomination that is important but the fact it provided a reason to revisit the incredible story of one little girls determination to have an education, something that many of us are fortunate enough to be given for free or at least freeish!

Reflection – The story in brief

By 1997, the year in which Malala was born her father Ziauddin Yousufzai had been running a private girls school for several years in the Swat

A classroom in Swat valley

A classroom in Swat valley

district of Pakistan. This was before the Taliban took over. At the end of 2008 the local Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah, issued a warning, all female education had to cease within a month, or schools would suffer consequences. Malala was 11 and supported by her father started an anonymous blog for the BBC Diary of a Pakistan school girl.”  The blog stopped after only 10 weeks as Malala had to leave Swat. Although clearly influenced and inspired by her father Malala had a voice of her own and one that was now being heard outside Pakistan, she was passionate about education, especially for women. A documentary by the New York Times bought the story to a wider audience.

 All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one. 

But on the 9th of October 2012 when Malala was just 15 two men boarded her school bus and asked “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all” The other girls looked at Malala, innocently identifying her; she was shot in the head and neck and left for dead. She was initially flown to a military hospital in Peshawar and then onto the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth hospital in the UK where she had further operations and continued her recovery.

They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in (the) home, school or any place. 

On 12 July, nine months after the shooting, came a major milestone. Malala stood up at the UN headquarters in New York and addressed a specially convened youth assembly. It was her 16th birthday and her speech was broadcast around the world.

Goals and Planning

Malala wanted to be a Doctor, but wanting to be a Doctor is not an effective goal, it’s a wish or desire, it was outside her control. What was within her control was to work hard, motivate herself and fight for the education she deserved.

Malala wanted to be a Doctor but events changed all that, a bullet intended to kill her sent her down a different path. Now she wants to be a politician, not a goal but a wish, driven perhaps by a deep routed desire to help people less fortunate than herself. Yet those same goals of hard work, motivation and learning will equally help turn this wish into a reality.

Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.

And so to 2014

When thinking back on 2013, learn from your mistakes, maybe the exams (life in general) didn’t go as well as you might have hoped. But don’t Happy New Yearask why, ask what have I learned and so need to do differently in 2014. Remember when setting those goals make sure they are within your control and take inspiration from the story of a brave little girl who worked hard, motivated herself and most of all believed in the importance of education.

  Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. 

Ps

Malala is now working hard for her GCSE’s incidentally at the same school as my daughter.

Well worth watching – BBC – Shot for going to school.

And the *Nobel Peace Prize 2013 was awarded to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.

Exams in the headlines – but for the wrong reasons again!

Well it has certainly been an interesting time in the exam world! Here are just a few of the headlines.

Behind all of these headlines are personal stories, for example students who can’t get into sixth form colleges because they didn’t get the necessary grades. The argument being, that if the grade boundaries had not changed (by 10%) resulting in them getting a D and not a C then they would have got into their colleges of choice.

Stacey Cole chief executive of Ofqual said “the grades are right “

Although the impact on individuals is considerable, statistically the change was small. The proportion of test papers awarded at least an A fell by 0.8 percentage points to 22.4 per cent (this was 8.6 per cent in 1988!) the first annual drop since GCSE exams were first sat in 1988. A* grades also fell but only by 0.5 percentage points to 7.3 per cent.

However, when something goes up, it must come down so perhaps it was inevitable that the ever increasing improvement in student grades had to reverse or at least plateau.

What has changed/gone wrong? 

  • Teachers are encouraged to prepare students for the exam, because parents, employers and educational institutions measure success at least partly (exclusively?) by the results.
  •  Students are better at exam skills than ever before. After all, this blog is about how to pass exams and the skills needed to help.
  • Universities and employers seem equally unimpressed with the quality of students and candidates they get, complaining they don’t have basic levels of numeracy, literacy and common sense!

Answers to some of the questions

Have students been getting better each year?

I think the answer is yes, the results prove they have. But maybe they have been getting better at passingexams. And not improving on some of the more difficult to measure skills like, attitude, common sense, being thoughtful. Exams don’t give you time to be thoughtful! This might explain why employers are so unhappy.

But they may just be getting better…..
On the 6th of May 1954 Roger Banister ran the 4 minute mile, it is now the standard of all male middle distance runners. Does this mean the mile is now shorter…….or maybe runners have improved?

Why did someone not say something?

The pressure to succeed, measured by exam results has been so great on teachers, examining bodies and students that no one was willing nor was it in their best interest to say, “this just doesn’t make sense.”

Why do we have exams, to test knowledge/competence or to separate the best from the rest?

They should probably be to asses’ knowledge but are mostly used to try and pick the best people.

Have exams been made easier, the dumbing down argument?

This is tricky, and although you can compare exam papers it’s a bit like comparing Wayne Rooney with George Best. You can debate the pros and cons but I am not sure it is conclusive; things were just different in the past.

But it’s not fair

What does seem clear in this whole debacle is that raising the grade required
half way through the year is not an example of exam rigour, it’s an example of being unfair and that is the one thing exams should never be.

Also see my blog what do exams prove

Back to more exam tips next month….