Tutor: Breaks and Breakthroughs

Log enough hours (weeks/months/years) reviewing practice tests with students, and you’ll eventually be able to read bubble sheets the way skilled sailors can read currents. You’ll recognize more than just the obvious clues related to struggles with question difficulty or time management; a test taker’s energy, interest, and mindset may become apparent, reflected in a pattern of right and wrong responses.

A reliable pattern I look out for is a string of three or four wrong answers for questions a student usually gets right. Obviously, we want to fully review these questions to avoid jumping to conclusions, but a sequence like this often indicates a lack of focus. A wandering mind or flagging resolve prevents test takers from bringing their best to each question, but tragically doesn’t always stop them from working through the questions anyway. They keep going and get a bunch wrong before they stabilize and refocus. Sound familiar?

Hustle or grind culture demands that we work no matter what, in weakness or in strength, through interest and disinterest. Work through your desire to quit, the gurus say, and eventually you’ll return to a more productive mindset. While such a philosophy has many problems, one that is too often overlooked involves the fruits of such bitter labor: does unwilling work deliver ideal results?

In the case of our distracted test takers, the proof is in the points lost. When an instance like this occurs, as it so often does, my advice is simple: when you stop paying attention, stop working. Your best test scores depend on your best performance on every question, so bringing less than your best will undermine your ambitions. Put your proverbial pencil down, and take a break.

Author Russell Eric Dobda clearly expressed the power of a pause when he said, “Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.” During high stakes testing, that break can be measured in seconds but still be meaningful.

We tutors deserve breaks as well. You may have noticed that I skipped sending out a newsletter last week. This wasn’t done in the interest of self-care or rest, as important as those activities can be. I just wasn’t predisposed to deliver my best work, such as it is. I could have phoned it in, as we professionals find ourselves doing all too often in far too many situations, but then I thought about the results of unfocused work and all those students who keep plugging away when their attention lies elsewhere.

Next time you’re thinking about gritting your teeth through a tutoring session or professional obligation, consider the advice you might give to your students in the same situation. Consider taking a break. On the other side of that break may lie your next breakthrough!

— Mike Bergin

Tutor Tips, Tools, and Thoughts

Harvard, Penn psychology research: People like you more than you think
Yes, even you 😉

The corrections dilemma: Admitting your mistakes increases accuracy but reduces audience trust, a new study finds
Ideally, avoid mistakes in the first place.

Class rank weighs down true learning
Traditional teaching and grading schemes often hurt more students than they help.

Strategies for building deeper relationships with students through academic content
Rapport improves engagement, which improves understanding.

Social Animal House: The Economic and Academic Consequences of Fraternity Membership
How many college students would trade a lower GPA for higher income after college?

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