Who is this expert? Ben Bernstein
What makes Dr. Ben Bernstein such an expert on test success?
Dr. Ben Bernstein has been helping children take tests for over 40 years. The most important thing he has learned is that a child’s performance is directly affected by his or her stress level. If stress is too high or too low, a child’s performance will suffer.
Dr. Bernstein analyzed the data he collected from years of helping kids take test and is now sharing his findings in his book, “Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test.”
The information in this book is applicable for more than just test taking. It can be applied to any stressful situation, including job interviews, public speaking, and public performances.
Dr. Bernstein describes other successes due to lowering stress:
“I have also seen how people can overcome their handicaps. I watched a student’s low SAT scores rise dramatically once he learned how to calm down during the test. I saw the utter joy of a rower when she finally learned how to focus her energy throughout the entire race. I was particularly moved when I watched the parents of a student I was coaching learn to build their son’s self-esteem instead of tear it down, by relaxing their completely unrealistic expectations of him.”
Dr. Bernstein’s book identifies nine key tools for test-taking success. He uses a balanced mind-body-spirit approach that boils down to being calm, having confidence and maintaining focus.
Here are some of Dr. Bernstein?s invaluable suggestions on how parents can help children deal with the four primary causes of poor scores:
- Trouble with the Content
- Understanding the material is the first and the most key issue
- Ask your child the following questions:
1. Is there something in the material you specifically don’t understand?
2. Do you feel like this material is just too difficult for you?
3 What doesn’t make sense to you?
4. Are you having trouble memorizing?
5. Are you just bored with this material? (Caution: when children say something is boring, they might mean that they don’t understand it or like it.)
Ask the teacher to shed light on the situation. Sometimes a child can’t pinpoint her difficulties and, if she’s too embarrassed, shy or resistant to talk with the teacher, she may need you to do so on her behalf. The teacher is a good resource because he may be more familiar than you are with your child’s learning style, so ask for his observations. Also, see if he can explain the material to you. Do the explanations seem clear? In other words, is the teacher part of the problem? Can the teacher show you a way to help your child?
Consider arranging for a tutor to work with your child. A tutor may be helpful to your child by providing close personal attention. Tutorial resources are increasingly available and don?t have to be costly. Many options are free or very inexpensive: peer tutors (fellow students) in the school, after-school programs that include a homework component, and college students looking for extra income. You can always go online or advertise for a tutor or see who is advertising their services.
Jitters and tension make it hard for anyone to concentrate. A bad case of nerves can seriously undermine students test performance because it robs them of their concentration.
Make sure your child gets enough regular physical exercise. Bike riding, working out at the gym, running and swimming are all tension-releasing activities that give her the opportunity to let off steam and restart her system. Watching TV, talking on the phone and playing video games are not aerobic. All too often kids try to study after long hours of these activities and their energy is already zapped.
Check whether your child is getting enough sleep. Is he going to bed too late? Does he have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Does he appear tired at other times of the day, like after school? Children need a lot more sleep than adults do, at least nine to ten hours a night, and anything less can severely hamper their school performance because their tired minds aren’t paying attention. Recent research shows that inadequate sleep can cause problems that look like attention deficit.
Review your child’s diet. A diet high in carbs, sugars and caffeinated drinks is, unfortunately, all too common in our culture. While sugary foods and energy drinks appear to keep the engine stoked, they are actually wearing your child down. A balanced diet keeps glucose levels from going on a roller coaster and has a positive effect on metabolism, energy levels and brain function.
Learn to calm down yourself. As a parent, you can very easily pick up on what your child feels and start feeling the same way yourself. (Also, of course, you have your own adult problems to cope with.) If your child is anxious or sad or angry, you may quickly begin feeling the same way, even if you were feeling quite calm just moments before. In psychology we call this an induced reaction-you are induced into your child’s state. This is a very human response, especially with people who are close with one another, like parent and child. You increase your chances of reducing your child’s stress if you learn how to keep yourself calm no matter what is going on with your child.
Issues of Self Doubt
Your child’s doubt in himself and his abilities may cause his confidence to plunge both before and during a test.
Ask yourself if you are the right person to be your child’s confidant. You might think of yourself as your child?s best friend, but you may not be the first choice as a confidant. If that’s the case, you have to give up the idea that your child should confide in you about this issue.
Think of someone else your child can talk with. Enlist the support of a teacher she respects, a school advisor or counselor she trusts, a clergy member or one of her close friends who is a responsible individual. Encourage her to share her deepest thoughts with that person. Make supportive but accurate statements to your child: “You work hard.” “You’ve taken on big challenges before and succeeded.” “You can do it.” “I believe in you.” “I know you’ve got what it takes.”
Difficulty Staying on Task
If your child has difficulty becoming motivated, find out what is getting in his way. Is it an overall sense of helplessness that even if he tries, he won?t get anywhere? Has achievement become a negative word?
Ask yourself whose goal it is that your child succeeds. Of course you want her to do well, but if she doesn’t have that goal herself, you are going to be in an uphill battle that you might never win. Talk with your child about this. A straightforward discussion about her goals can go a long way toward clarifying why she needs to work harder.
Notice the ways your child becomes distracted. Does he stay on the phone, text, log onto the web, e-mail, play video games, watch TV, eat–all instead of doing his homework? Can you help him set realistic working periods with breaks for “treats” and “distractions”? Consider getting a timer as a tool so he can focus better and more consistently.
Consider how focused you are. If you have clear goals and minimize distraction, you can be a good role model for your child. She can see the effects for herself.
Remember: cultivating good work habits is ultimately something children should learn to do for themselves because they see the positive results and feel good about having accomplished a goal. Though you may have to encourage and mentor them through this process, they are doing the work so that they can go on to lead a more fulfilling life.
Four Bad Parental Behaviors and What to Do about Them
Are You Comparing Your Child to Others? Stop! The best thing to do is to focus on what is going on with him and what he needs, not on what anyone else is doing or has done. Go out of your way to ask your child questions so you can understand his needs.
Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations for Your Child? Sometimes parents idealize their children and see them as mini superheroes capable of doing just about anything. This mentality gets in the way of seeing your child for who she is. Be her greatest advocate and most enduring source of support. But be realistic by recognizing her true strengths and weaknesses. You have to acknowledge –and this is harder –to accept the things she likes and the things she doesn’t and be honest about her possibilities and limitations.
Do You Think Your Child’s Performance Is a Reflection of Your Parenting? If your child performs poorly on a test, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done a bad job as a parent. It could just mean your child needs some help. Don’t take it personally! Find the real problem and get the right help. If you have difficulty separating your child’s performance from your own self-esteem or from your own performance as a child, you can avail yourself of different forms of support such as parenting books, online help, peer counseling (talking with other parents) or professional therapy.
Are You Micromanaging Your Child? Stop helicoptering to rescue your child from every little thing! Give your child room to grow. It’s hard to watch him make a mistake, or make the wrong choice, but true learning and growth come only through personal action. Wind him up and let him go. Let him fall and learn to pick himself up again by himself, on his own.
For more information visit www.testsuccesscoach.com.
Available in bookstores nationwide and online.
About the Author
Ben Bernstein, Ph.D., is a performance coach, a licensed psychologist, and a national speaker on the subject of stress and performance. His model for test success is used in schools, universities, prisons and programs for underserved college-bound youth. An educator for the last forty years, Dr. Bernstein has taught at every level of the educational system. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he began his teaching career in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1969. A graduate of Bowdoin College, Dr. Bernstein received a master’s degree in music composition from Mills College and a doctorate from the University of Toronto.
Among his many accomplishments, he is a performance coach in the Young Musicians Program for inner-city teenagers at UC Berkeley; a recipient of major grants from the American and Canadian governments; the first director of improvisation at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah; the founder of the Singer’s Gym, a professional workshop for opera singers in the Bay Area; and the creator and producer of original musicals and films with psychiatric patients in the United States and Australia.
Dr. Ben Bernstein lives in San Francisco, California.
What People Are Saying
“This well-written, practical and incredibly insightful book will be invaluable to a wide range of people preparing to take tests. Test Success! is filled with information and practical examples that will be useful and calming to everyone who approaches test taking with a sense of dread.” Katherine Schultz, Dean and Professor, Mills College School of Education
“Test Success! is an astonishing rendition of what it is like to be coached personally by Dr. Bernstein. His strategy for helping students remain calm, confident and focused by bringing physical, mental and even spiritual forces to bear in high-pressure performance-testing situations offers a transformative life strategy. It is one aimed not only at bringing out the best but also doing so reliably and consistently.” Charles N. Bertolami, D.D.S, D.Med.Sc., Dean, New York University College of Dentistry
“Dr. Bernstein’s techniques are invaluable because they help the student to access, process and retrieve the right information in a timely manner. In this way, the student is able to perform according to his or her potential: capable, in charge and successful.” Toby Mickelson, Director of Learning Services, Redwood Day School, Oakland, CA
“I was really afraid of the SAT until I started working with Dr. B?s method. He showed me how important it is to be calm, confident and focused, not just on the test but while I was studying. My SAT scores were much better than I ever imagined they could be.” Peter Nguyen, high school senior
Dr. Bernstein’s advice is simple, effective and downright magical. This book will help parents learn how to support their student–no matter how test-phobic–through the gauntlet of standardized testing of middle school, high school, college and beyond. I have seen Dr. Bernstein’s clear, practical tips help students overcome anxiety and athletes sustain their focus and determination. Use this book for lifelong support through the stresses of performance anxiety.” Catherine Hunter, Head, San Francisco Friends School
“Doing well on college admission tests requires a bundle of knowledge, unwavering self-confidence and the developed skill of relaxing under pressure. Check out Dr. Ben Bernstein on the latter.” Richard W. Moll, author of Playing the Selective College Admissions Game and The Public Ivys; former Dean of Admissions, Bowdoin College, Vassar College and University of California at Santa Cruz
” I have utilized Ben Bernstein’s test-prep techniques in my summer programs for first-generation and low-income students, and they have been very effective. Many students later reported how useful the techniques were not only for preparing for exams but for personal use as well. Dr. Bernstein has a well-proven method that is very effective and comfortable for students to adopt. He also challenges students to reach deep inside to address the fears they possess to overcome the lack of proper test-taking skills. Any student should be able to utilize this book to excel on standardized exams.” Charles J. Alexander, Ph.D. Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity Director of Academic Advancement Program, UCLA
“I was always scared of tests and I never did well on them. It was really frustrating. Dr. B coached me and showed me what to do. I did it and it worked. Now I don?t panic when I take tests and I do much better on them.” Stephanie Chung, high school student, Berkeley, CA