The MuchSmarter Blog

How Jack Let Go of A Limiting Belief About Standardized Tests

Steve Schecter
April 2, 2020

Few students have demonstrated better than Jack the importance of letting go of limiting beliefs. In the beginning, it wasn't even clear what Jack’s limiting belief might be.

Jack was an exceptional student from a school for exceptional students. He was preparing to take a standardized test called the SSAT.  This is a test that young people take to gain admission to certain independent private high schools.  The test is challenging.  The curve is also tough, because students who take the tests are generally strong students who are applying to highly selective high schools. 

But Jack seemed to be well suited to the challenge. When he practiced for the SSAT, he got very few questions wrong-- mostly just one or two per section. He looked ready for an easy ride -- take the SSAT once and then send in the great scores! 

The actual result was different.  When he took the SSAT for the first time, his score came in at about a 60th percentile -- better than 60% of those taking the test.  This result was by no means a bad one, given the highly competitive group of students that takes the SSAT.  But the result was lower than what one might have expected for Jack, based on his strong track record in school and his very strong practice results before the test. 

In fact, when his dad asked Steve, “what can he do to practice better?”, Steve was initially unsure of how to respond.  How do you advise a kid who is only getting one or two questions wrong?

So Steve asked Jack why he thought he had underperformed on the SSAT.   His answer:  “I’m no good at standardized tests.”  It turned out that this was far from the first time that Jack had underperformed on a standardized test;  in fact, it was the norm for him.

It then occurred to Steve that it might be his very belief about standardized testing that might be holding him back.  So Steve decided to explore this possibility with Jack to help him get a better handle on his game.

The first step was to bring the limiting belief out into the open and to let Jack see the absurdity of the idea. 

At one point, Steve even asked Jack, “So, do you think you have a strand of DNA somewhere in you that codes for ‘bad on standardized tests?’”

Jack laughed and said, “no”.  

With continued focus, Jack was able to see his being “no good on standardized tests”  for what it was:  a limiting belief.   

He began to see that there was no substance to this limiting belief.  It’s only power came from the power that his thoughts gave it.   He learned to see that he could handle standardized tests with the same confidence and skill that he handles all other academic challenges--and went on to get a 95th percentile SSAT score!   

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