Monday, March 31, 2008

Confidence: The Secret to Test Success

Second period freshman English was a motley crew of the lowest-performing, worst-behaved, hopeless cases at my high school. On the first day of class they looked around the room and up at me and asked who I’d pissed off in the administration. “We’re the worst in the school and we’re all in the class for dumb kids.” For some reason I became a liar and an actress in that awkward moment because with great confidence I explained that they were quite mistaken and that actually this was an honors class. They didn’t really believe me, but they didn’t have any way to prove me wrong, and so our semester of “honors” English began.

The class was small and that group of eight posed no threat thanks to their desire to live up to their befuddling “honors” reputation. They worked hard that semester. They ditched most of their classes, but not mine. They supported one another and called our group a family.

The principal told me he didn’t expect them to pass the end-of-grade test but he didn’t want them in the other ninth grade classes where they would disrupt their peers and bring the overall scores down with their antics. So, from the start, my competitive nature established the goal that they would ALL pass the test. Passing the test was also required for them to move to sophomore English. Every one of them had been stuck in ninth grade for a few years thanks to this one course.

You’d think with such a goal I would have had a robust action plan in place, but I would have to say my greatest test prep strategy was simply telling them they would pass. They were honors students after all. They knew the material. They were reading novels (for many, this was a first). They could write. They were going to pass.

So on the day of the test they had to fill in the cover sheet with their names, my name, the title of the course, and whether or not it was an honors course. And you already know what they filled in. I could have cleared up my lie on that last day, but what would the point have been?

Every last one of them passed. It’s crazy what a little confidence can accomplish.

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