The ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”

Here’s one way I apply this concept to helping students with test anxiety: I ask scared students, “What is it about the test that creates your anxiety? Is it the test…or is it your judgment of the situation? Or is it your judgment of yourself? What if you could revise your judgment?” I tell them that I usually did well on tests in school partly because my “judgment” was: “I can’t wait to find out how much I know about this stuff.” Not many of my students seem to have that “judgment.” Of course, many don’t think that way because they haven’t properly prepared and they know it! If that’s so, then we can turn to the best ways to prepare.

In my experience, negative judgment is one of the strongest “away-from” motivators for humans, and the more skilled that students are at handling negative judgment, their own and others, the more likely they will persevere in college even in the face of discouraging outcomes. This skill (handling negative judgments) seems to be at the heart of emotional maturity and has a tremendous impact on success for students and retention for colleges.

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop

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