Improve testing confidence with high power poses, optimism, meditation

They aimlessly wander the hall, chests tight and aching with the pain of short breaths, preparing for their upcoming exam. Clutching their notebooks for dear life, high schoolers often enter their clasrooms feeling as if they lack the ability to succeed in such a high intensity environment.

A good mindset is knowing somewhere in your mind you do know everything, and it’s just a matter of relaxing and having the idea that you know what you’re doing.”

— Junior Sarah Murad

Whether it’s the increased amount of schoolwork, plethora of standardized tests, or the rampant sleep deprivation in teenagers, American students have become increasingly plagued by stress and anxiety at the fault of school. Ironically, pressure to do well in school has ultimately harmed academic performance: Studies have shown that test-anxiety can negatively affect test scores and overall academic performance. By the same token, students that were more optimistic about their academic growth throughout the year were less likely to have a decline in overall performance.

Junior Sarah Murad makes sure that she is relaxed before taking a test. She does her best not to cram study before a test because it stresses her out more.

“A good mindset is knowing somewhere in your mind you do know everything, and it’s just a matter of relaxing and having the idea that you know what you’re doing,” she said, “a bad attitude would be thinking that you’re going to fail…even if you have studied.”

Nonetheless, telling someone to ‘just relax’, may not be as effective as one might hope. While more long term and mental methods exist to mitigate overall stress and anxiety, more immediate and physical remedies exist as well.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve focus, boost working memory, and even reduce physical pain. St. Paul Academy and Summit School students have probably practiced meditation in the classroom on more than one occasion, whether it was in Wellness or in the middle of an English class.

Upper School English teacher Haseena Hamzawala has practiced meditation her whole life due to her grandmother’s Buddhist background. Hamzawala brought meditation to her classroom four years ago, and has increased the number of classes with meditation due to the overall positive student response. This past summer, she took a 6-week course on meditation in teaching from the University of Minnesota.

TED Conferences

“I decided I’m going to do this everyday because it actually improves test scores and it calms people down,” Hamzawala said.

She observed noticeable changes in behavior in her students following a couple minutes of meditation.

“[With] my tenth graders especially this year I can see even in their body language that they’re less anxious after we meditate,” she said, “Before discussions I do pop quizzes on their reading…so if people are like ‘Oh my god! I don’t remember this!’…and we meditate first thing, I do see anxiety levels go down.”

While meditation has been around for centuries, in the past decade, a newer method to decrease stress and also increase confidence is far more within reach. Literally. Amy Cuddy, a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, recently found a way to physically boost confidence at a biochemical level. She noticed that people and animals in higher positions of power innately displayed open stances (with arms often extended), whereas those in lower positions of power were more closed in (arms tucked in and slouching). Her observation led her to wonder if body language can influence mindset like mindset influences body language.

I decided I’m going to [have students meditate] everyday because it actually improves test scores and it calms people down.”

— Haseena Hamzawala

Cuddy implemented the idea “fake it till you make it” and had subjects pose like those in dominant and subordinate positions. The results brought Cuddy to a surprising conclusion: “Fake it till you make it” was no longer the new mantra, but rather, “fake it till you become it”. It turns out that Cuddy’s power poses actually influence the testosterone and cortisol levels (dominance and stress, respectively) in those who practiced them. Furthermore, Cuddy found that if interviewees took time to do power poses before an interview, they came off as more confident and engaging.

“They need their bodies, privacy and two minutes, and it can significantly change the outcomes of their life,” Cuddy said in a TED talk.

The idea of power poses has also taken root in some St. Paul Academy and Summit School classrooms. Upper School U.S. History teacher Mollie Ward has encourages her students to do power poses before exams.

“If you did this power pose for even…two minutes before you do an assessment, [you] do statistically better. It seemed like a really easy thing to try, so I tried it in my classes,” Ward said, “All the teachers read a book over the summer called Whistling Vivaldi that was all about psychology studies that have to do with race but were like [power poses] – little things that you can do that really help people overcome their own negative tape that they play.”

I suppose [I would] if I consciously remember, but what are the odds that I’m going to remember?”

— Junior Hannah Stanley

However, power poses are a fairly new idea – far less established than meditation, which is centuries old. Its nascency gives rise to some skepticism.

“If I knew they worked I, but I don’t know they work,” sophomore Ben Mellin said.

Finally, in the hubbub that is rushing between classes and cramming in homework assignments due next class, many students might find it difficult to take time out of their own packed routine to stop and meditate or power pose.

“I suppose I if I consciously remember, but what are the odds that I’m going to remember?” junior Hannah Stanley said.

Though mindfulness meditation may take much longer in order to feel its full effects, power posing only needs two minutes to make a difference. So stretch those arms and spread out – a little confidence can’t hurt.