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Can Pressure Be Beneficial for Students?

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Do you ever wonder why some students freeze up during exams while others breeze through without breaking a sweat? In the New York Times article “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?,” authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman say the answer may lie in your genes. Recent research on the COMT gene reveals that the gene has two variants: one that removes dopamine from the brain slowly, and another that removes it quickly. Interestingly, people who have the faster-acting enzyme tend to perform better in high-stress situations such as taking tests.

But the story doesn’t end there: students who were told that their anxiety would be beneficial to them showed improved cognitive function. And people who are acclimated to stress can improve their performance, even if they carry the so-called “worrier” gene. These studies are important because they show students that they can overcome their fear of taking tests; instead of being at the mercy of their genes, they can take steps to control their reaction to stress.

What do you think?

Have you ever suffered from test anxiety, and if so, were you able to overcome it? How?

Do you think too much pressure is being placed on students to perform well on tests?


Stefanie Weisman is the author of The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College, which will be released in May, 2013.

For more resources on academic success, visit the College Countdown Bookstore.

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Stefanie Weisman became the valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School in 1999 and went on to study history at Columbia University. She was awarded the Albert Asher Green Prize for having the highest GPA in her class. After working for several years in corporate America, she got her M.A. in the history of art and archaeology. She was a Craig Hugh Smyth fellow at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Around this time, Weisman developed an interest in technology and returned to Columbia to get a B.S. in computer science.

Weisman is the author of The Secrets of Top Students.