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Math Geniuses Don’t Exist.

Math Geniuses Don’t Exist.

Grantly
October 15, 2019
For many students, math (or another “math-heavy field” like computer science, physics, accounting, economics etc.) can be the most intimidating subject in school.

For many students, math (or another “math-heavy field” like computer science, physics, accounting, economics etc.) can be the most intimidating subject in school. Statements like “I’m not some math genius” or “I can’t possibly take that class” can be heard echoing down high school and college hallways alike, when math class is mentioned. 

“I can’t possibly take that class”

Parents and students typically attribute these mathematical challenges to “not being a math person” or “the class being just too hard”. After tutoring countless students in math, physics, economics, statistics and other quantitative classes that elicit stress in those with “numerical anxiety”, at GRANITE we think something different is going on. 

Math is different from history or english largely in the way it is expressed.

Math is different from history or english largely in the way it is expressed. English and history use words. While words can be long and complicated, ultimately they are still words. Words are comfortable; we use them to text our friends, read our favorite blogs, and follow the subtitles in foreign films. Accordingly, when an english or history teacher gives us a uniquely hard article, primary source, or novel, we can feel reassured that at the end of the day this challenging academic obstacle is still made up of words. Math by contrast is not built on words but on “notation”: symbols used to count, categorize, and estimate.

Words are comfortable; we use them to text our friends, read our favorite blogs, and follow the subtitles in foreign films.

It is not uncommon for a student to come across a math problem and leave the question blank, in spite of having all the skills needed. When reviewing the problem, the student will often say “I didn’t know that symbol, so I panicked and just skipped it”. This, of course, is not the fault of the student at all. Our mainstream cultural dialogue and academic systems consistently reinforce the idea that math is something extremely difficult reserved for “math geniuses”, and the resulting panic students feel is just a self fulfilling prophecy. 

…consistently reinforce the idea that math is something extremely difficult rese

What happens when smart kids don’t score well?

Student Taking the ACT

What happens when smart kids don’t score well?

Grantly
December 19, 2018
“If I am working hard, why am I not getting the score I want?”
As the founder of Granite Test Prep, an education consulting and college readiness company based in Nashville, TN, Grantly Neely spends most of his days talking with students about test scores: what they mean, how to raise them, and whether or not they even matter. It is not uncommon for students to excel in school, yet struggle when it comes to test taking. In these cases, the solution can often be to get a tutor; however, when test grades don’t improve or ACT scores don’t increase, students can become disheartened and lose confidence. Teachers may tell families things like “your student is doing her/his work and understands the concepts, I’m not sure why s/he is struggling so much on our tests.” Or a student will be consistently performing academically, only to perform far below expectation on national standardized tests (PSAT/SAT/ACT), in spite of prep courses, tutors, and practice tests. At this point it is only fair to wonder: If I am working hard, why am I not getting the score I want?
For many students, this unfortunate gap between understanding and “performance” is a product of our preparation methods.
For many students, this unfortunate gap between understanding and “performance” is a product of our preparation methods. Tutors, review books, teachers, and even well intentioned youtubers, typically focus exclusively on the test content, completely ignoring the reality that performance on tests is driven just as much by an understanding of test content as it is by the “intangibles of test taking”. It is likely these “intangibles” are so frequently ignored that you might not even know what I mean. At Granite Test Prep we are fascinated with these test taking intangibles and typically focus on two major intangibles: the ability to stay focused through the entire duration of an exam and the ability to stay calm when an exam is not going exactly as we like. Our focus, calm, and confidence vary naturally from day to day. Accepting these as key variables on test taking success, we often attribute undesired scores to these intangibles. It is not uncommon for parents to sympathetically say: “don’t worry honey – you just had an off day!” Still, this consolation leaves students with a question: why did I have an “off-day” and how can I have more “on-days”?
There are many exercises and strategies that are designed specifically to help test takers have more on-days.
Fortunately the above question has an answer! There are many exercises and strategies that are designed specifically to help test takers have more on-days. These exercises help build up focus or calm, depending on a student’s need. Therefore, if you struggle to demonstrate what you know on exams and tests, practicing mindfulness might be a great place to start. It is important to remember that mindfulness is a skill and an exercise, while some benefits can be experienced in only a couple days, most of them don’t start to show up for a few months. If you want to try a simple meditation one of our favorites is outlined below:
Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”over four years.
  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit upright

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Take a couple deep breaths

  4. Notice any sounds or scents in the room

  5. Notice the ground beneath your feet

  6. Notice what your breath is doing (don’t change it – just notice)

  7. Begin counting your breath 1 on the in breath 2 on the out breath (again we aren’t trying to control or influence our breath just gently count)

  8. Once you reach a count of 6 start back at 1

  9. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to whatever number you last remember being on. No need to feel frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath; you are building the “focus muscle” of your brain.

  10. Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”

  11. After 10 mins is complete open your eyes and go about your day!
    Source: “Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

Considering what you eat is also very important when thinking about test performance. Cutting-edge scientific research shows the importance of nutrition in supporting the focus and calm needed for academic performance. Many student’s struggle with long tests simply because they don’t bring any snacks. Rapid changes in blood sugar level can wreak havoc on our ability to focus. Accordingly, keeping a steady energy level by eating small snacks during all breaks can be extremely helpful to test takers. These snacks should be high in protein and low glycemic index.
Rapid changes in blood sugar level can wreak havoc on our ability to focus.
High glycemic foods (white bread, candy, soda) can cause crashes and subsequent brain fog. The world of nutrition for academic performance is complicated things like fiber, probiotics, and fat also have critical implications on how our brains work. Learn about how “Medical Students See Lower Cortisol Levels (stress hormone) after 8-weeks of probiotics”
Small changes can have huge impacts on test scores, so just choose a couple intangibles that resonate with you and work on those.

When evaluating how test taking intangibles affect our performance on standardized tests it can be tempting to feel overwhelmed thinking: “I have to change my entire lifestyle just to do well on tests!” That is absolutely not the case! Small changes can have huge impacts on test scores, so just choose a couple intangibles that resonate with you and work on those. If you have any questions about the world of test prep feel free to reach out to us at contact@granitetestprep.com we love chatting with people and sharing our recommendations!

Author: Grantly Neely is a certified KORU mindfulness teacher, founder of Granite Test Prep and Nashville native. For more about Grantly and his amazing team of educators CLICK HERE

What test takers can learn from athletes about a 24% GPA boost and 13% increase in confidence

What test takers can learn from athletes about a 24% GPA boost and 13% increase in confidence

Grantly
November 21, 2018
“the GPA of [the] “brain training group” had increased by 24%… [and] a 13% increase in self reported confidence”
We know that athletes work out to perform at a higher level for their sport. Be it baseball, tennis, basketball, or soccer — it is understood that you will only be able to perform at the highest level if you are training your body. Not surprisingly your brain needs a similar type of “workout” if you want it excel on tests and projects. Doing math, writing papers, or creating art are all great “brain workouts”. Still, one brain workout has been largely ignored until recently.
Still, one brain workout has been largely ignored until recently…

Thousands of cutting edge scientific studies are finding the value of mindfulness-based brain training exercises for academic achievement. Just as an athlete works on cardio to improve endurance, a student should use a mindfulness-based practice to build up attention span. When an athlete lifts weights to get stronger, a student might use mindfulness to strengthen memory. The parallels between physical fitness and brain fitness are endless.

Mindfulness powered brain training literally increases the density of “grey matter” in our brain.
The connection between time spent in the gym and time spent with the aforementioned brain exercises continues if we look at the anatomy behind these respective gains. Mindfulness powered brain training literally increases the density of “grey matter” in our brain. Grey matter, the material made up of billions of neural-connections, is the critical building block for many of our brains most important regions. Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to increase the size and density of the hippocampus (the area of the brain associated with memory), the temporoparietal junction (the area of the brain that deals with language and attention), and the posterior parietal cortex (responsible for keeping us focused on the task at hand). If your team’s coach thought you needed to strengthen your biceps, you would do concentration curls. On the flip side, if you had a hard time focusing on tests, your tutor should recommend the appropriate brain training exercises.
If your team’s coach thought you needed to strengthen your biceps, you would do concentration curls. On the flip side, if you had a hard time focusing on tests, your tutor should recommend the appropriate brain training exercises.

So what is an easy way to get started with some “brain pull-ups”? Below is an easy ten step guide to begin practicing. If you have specific questions set up a meeting with a Granite Prep educator to discuss your goals and needs.

Enjoying the benefits of mindfulness isn’t difficult, nor is it particularly time consuming. The simplest mindfulness exercise (a breathing meditation) only takes ten minutes a day and goes something like this:
  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit upright

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Take a couple deep breaths

  4. Notice any sounds or scents in the room

  5. Notice the ground beneath your feet

  6. Notice what your breath is doing (don’t change it – just notice)

  7. Begin counting your breath 1 on the in breath 2 on the out breath (again we aren’t trying to control or influence our breath just gently count)

  8. Once you reach a count of 6 start back at 1

  9. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to whatever number you last remember being on. No need to feel frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath; you are building the “focus muscle” of your brain.

  10. Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”

  11. After 10 mins is complete open your eyes and go about your day!
    Source: “Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

If you aren’t completely convinced yet, let the numbers speak for themselves. Below shows the results of a study conducted at the University of Almería, Spain. The study randomly split a high school into two groups; one group received mindfulness brain training, the other did not.
…after the training, however, the GPA of the “brain training group” had increased by 24% for the semester whereas the “no brain training group” didn’t see any change in GPA.

GPAs of the students were recorded and then compared to GPAs at ten weeks later. Before the training, the two groups had very similar GPA’s, after the training, however, the GPA of the “brain training group” had increased by 24% for the semester whereas the “no brain training group” didn’t see any change in GPA. The students who received the mindfulness training also saw an increase in academic confidence. These students enjoyed a 13% increase in self reported confidence. Once again, the group who did not receive any brain training did not see any change in confidence. The results from the study are shown in the table below (to read the full study click here).

If you are looking to bring your academic performance and self confidence to the next level, getting into a mindfulness practice to train your brain is a great place to start. Try getting in a habit of doing the exercise described above every morning or afternoon for ten minutes.
Just like with any exercise, you won’t start noticing the results right away. Just like it takes time to build muscle, it takes time to build our brain.
Just like with any exercise, you won’t start noticing the results right away. Just like it takes time to build muscle, it takes time to build our brain. That said, after staying with this exercise for a month or two you will likely begin to notice a sharper and calmer mind. For any questions about what exercises would be most helpful for your particular goals reach out to us at contact@granitetestprep.com or leave a comment below and we will answer!

*The Stats:

At Granite Prep we feel it is critical to maintain the highest integrity with our statistics, so we publish t-statistics and confidence intervals for all our figures. The t-statistic for the difference in academic achievement between our groups’ pretreatment was 0.846 (not statistically significant ). This is a good indication that the groups were infact randomly assigned. The pretreatment difference in confidence was 0.858 (not statistically significant), again speaking to the randomly assigned nature of the groups. The t-statistic of the difference between treatment and control groups after the ten weeks was: 3.62 (p<0.001) and 4.86 (p<0.001) for GPA and confidence respectively.
If you don’t know what these numbers mean, but you are interested check out this great course on research statistics!

Grantly Neely is a certified KORU mindfulness teacher, founder of Granite Test Prep and Nashville native. For more about Grantly and his amazing team of educators CLICK HERE

Sources:
Franco C., Mañas I., Cangas A.J., Gallego J. (2010) The Applications of Mindfulness with Students of Secondary School: Results on the Academic Performance, Self-concept and Anxiety. In: Lytras M.D., Ordonez De Pablos P., Ziderman A., Roulstone A., Maurer H., Imber J.B. (eds) Knowledge Management, Information Systems, E-Learning, and Sustainability Research. WSKS 2010. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 111. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

Grantly
September 21, 2018

Don’t let stress slow you down

Test taking anxiety can be unpleasant, but it can also hinder test performance. The authors at PSYCOM explain that: “your body releases adrenaline, and the energy used to do good thinking gets diverted into being on high alert. Our brains prepare for the worst, and it becomes all too difficult to imagine doing well and to answer questions.”

What is Mindfulness?

At Granite Prep we like to refer to Mindfulness as “pull-ups for your brain”. Similarly to how an athlete will run miles, do reps, or swim laps to get stronger or faster, a student can do mindfulness exercises to boost focus, calm, and even curiosity.
The reality is that being “in the zone” (calm and collected) isn’t just a gift; its something that can be trained and nurtured.
The reality is that being “in the zone” (calm and collected) isn’t just a gift; its something that can be trained and nurtured. LeBron James uses mindfulness to get over free throw nerves. Oprah talks about the power of mindfulness for relaxing. Wall-street giant Ray Dalio built his entire hedge fund (“Bridge Water Capital”) around the lessons he learned from Mindfulness.

The Science:

Before we go any further, lets be clear that mindfulness isn’t simply a fringe habit of a couple famous people; it is a well researched practice with evidence based support for test taking anxiety. A collaborative study involving Drexel University, Mass General, and University of Pennsylvania found that a 3 week mindfulness-centric class aimed at reducing test taking anxiety both helped students feel more calm, but also boosted grades by 8-points on a 100 point final-exam (compared to the prior 100 point midterm). In other words, doing mindfulness between the midterm and the final gave students a full letter-grade boost!
“In other words, doing mindfulness between the midterm and the final gave students a full letter-grade boost!”
As a point of reference, another group of students in the class received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for test taking anxiety. CBT is the current gold standard technique used clinically for reducing anxiety. Fortunately, the study revealed that BOTH mindfulness and CBT had a SIGNIFICANT impact on reducing test taking anxiety for the students.
“BOTH mindfulness and CBT had a SIGNIFICANT impact on reducing test taking anxiety for the students.”
Interestingly, however, only the mindfulness group enjoyed score increases from the midterm to final, the CBT group scores stayed basically the same. It is theorized that while mindfulness and CBT therapies are both highly effective at helping students relax and reduce anxiety, only mindfulness helps students score better because of it’s benefit of helping students focus on test material (instead of anxious thoughts). Results from the study are shown below:
Blue = Mindfulness-Centric (ABBT) Test Taking Anxiety Reduction
Red = CBT Test Taking Anxiety ReductionBlue = Mindfulness-Centric (ABBT) Test Taking Anxiety Reduction

Test Taking Anxiety Reduction Techniques vs Exam Scores

(Click on the image to read the full study)
CBT is the traditional approach used by therapist to help patients reduce experienced anxiety. This study shows that CBT is certainly effective in that capacity. That said, when comparing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Mindfulness, both seem to offer a reduction in stress and anxiety, but only Mindfulness also increases exam scores.

How do I learn Mindfulness:

“Enjoying the benefits of mindfulness isn’t difficult, nor is it particularly time consuming.”
Enjoying the benefits of mindfulness isn’t difficult, nor is it particularly time consuming. The simplest mindfulness exercise (a breathing meditation) only takes ten minutes a day and goes something like this:
  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit upright
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Take a couple deep breaths
  4. Notice any sounds or scents in the room
  5. Notice the ground beneath your feet
  6. Notice what your breath is doing (don’t change it – just notice)
  7. Begin counting your breath 1 on the in breath 2 on the out breath (again we aren’t trying to control or influence our breath just gently count)
  8. Once you reach a count of 6 start back at 1
  9. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to whatever number you last remember being on. No need to feel frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath; you are building the “focus muscle” of your brain. Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”
  10. After 10 mins is complete open your eyes and go about your day!
“Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a ‘brain pull-up'”

If you think you could benefit from mindfulness and want to learn different techniques we love to recommend HEADSPACE (linked below). Headspace founder Andy is a brilliant teacher and has been working in the field of mindfulness for nearly his entire life.
HEADSPACE

Furthermore, if you are looking for in person mindfulness instruction specifically for test taking anxiety the instructors at Granite Prep are always happy to help. Using our proprietary technique of blending mindfulness with class or test specific material, we are able to give students a unique opportunity to perform at his or her highest level.
Whether it is the SAT or ACT, Pre-Calculus, or Physics we have created innovative solutions to help students thrive. Granite Prep offers both one on one private tutoring and institutional seminars.

Author

Grantly Neely is a certified mindfulness teacher and founder of Granite Prep a company dedicated to helping it’s students achieve their ambitions while building resilient minds.

Sources:

Brown, Lily & Forman, Evan & Herbert, James & Hoffman, Kimberly & Yuen, Erica & Goetter, Elizabeth. (2011). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Acceptance-Based Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Therapy for Test Anxiety: A Pilot Study. Behavior modification. 35. 31-53. 10.1177/0145445510390930.