Exams are often said to be one of the most stressful things that today’s students have to go through, and as such, many teachers feel pressure to improve exam results.
The thinking may be to apply more pressure, praise good results and be critical of poor performance, but this could in fact have an adverse effect. In a culture that increasingly focuses on results, the fear of failure can be crippling for some students – and yet, this is not the case for others. For some, anxiety levels are low, which can lead to better performance on the day. So what is it that makes all the difference when it comes to approaching such a milestone in education? The variance lies with the student’s mindset; those with a fixed mindset approach exams and other challenges with fear and trepidation, while those with a growth mindset are unafraid of getting answers ‘wrong’, and can therefore access retained information more efficiently and perform well during examinations.
Key differentiators between the growth and fixed mindset
Let’s continue with the example of exams to determine the key differences between the fixed and growth mindset.
Sam gets his exam results back, and is relieved to find he did well. He is praised for his good results, and was worried about the possibility of poor results, and these would be indicative of failure and getting things wrong. James however, see the exam as a chance to evaluate his current level and get feedback on what areas to work on. . His emphasis is on effort rather than achievement, and would view poor exam results as a learning experience that will help him do better next time.
This difference in approach when applied to all learning is called the growth mindset. When students are unafraid of mistakes, they are more likely to try new things, attempt challenging tasks, be open to feedback and view failure as a building block instead of a roadblock. Research shows that 40 per cent of students have a fixed mindset, and similarly 40 per cent have a growth mindset. The remaining 20 per cent has a mixture of the two. As educators, the power lies with you to alter this way of thinking. A growth mindset can help students not only perform better on exams, but in other areas as well. The shift in the way things are taught and the way praise and criticism is handled can be the difference in a student’s overall academic career. Over time, this student motivation method can contribute to a more confident and capable student, as the brain effectively receives “training” (known as “neuroplasticity”) to handle information differently.
Just as the way the brain thinks and approaches a challenge such as exams can be changed, the student’s mindset can be altered over time. In fact, research shows that nearly zero per cent of children had a fixed mindset before school, proof that their attitudes and approach to learning can be altered and impacted by their teachers.