What is Positive Psychology?
Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology that, rather than focusing on what needs to be “fixed” with humans, aims to help individuals recognize and amplify what makes life most worth living for themselves. As Professor Christopher Peterson says, “It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology”. Basically, we all have the ability to lead better, more meaningful lives for ourselves using our strengths.
How can Positive Psych be used to help alleviate the stress upperclassmen face?
The college application process is a stressful time for any upperclassmen. On top of maintaining good grades, extracurricular participation, relationships, other responsibilities and sleep, there is the big, scary standardized test which comes to juniors and seniors in the form of the ACT or SAT. Positive Psychology tries to help you realize and put your strengths into practice. The scientific aspect of Positive Psychology is apparent and studied through the benefits of healthy nutrition and exercise habits. In the context of the ACT/SAT, taking the time to eat and exercise right can increase your mood, drive, as well as your brain strength and activity. Meditation and mindfulness are another pillar of Positive Psychology because of the time spent clearing your mind, focusing on a goal or thought, and gaining self awareness.
How can I modify aspects of nutrition/exercise/meditation to work for me and my schedule?
Great question! Everyone is on their own path with personal wellness and may feel that time or monetary constraints may limit their choices as far as what they can do to best prepare for the test. While you do not have to do months of tutoring to achieve a score you can be proud of, integrating aspects of nutrition, exercise, and meditation can help you boost your scores and your overall wellness- in and out of the testing room! To aid future test takers, I have broken up each section with options of involvement which you can make work for you.
Level 1: Maximum level of dedication and effort. Will have optimal outcomes, but best practiced well in advance of the test so that your mind and body are used to a new healthy routine. Ideal for those looking to prepare as most they can, and those who are viewing this page well in advance of their test.
Level 2: Median level of dedication and effort. Great for a student looking to improve and aid their score, but who also perhaps has time constraints.
Level 3: Low level of dedication and effort, for the student who is actively seeking ways to improve their well-being and test scores, perhaps last minute! Not ideal, but better than nothing!
Ok, let’s dive in!
Positive Psych Connection/Value:
Positive Psychology studies the way the neurotransmitters dopamine,serotonin, and norepinephrine can lead to increased well-being and happiness, in order to combat depression. In the brain, when we exercise, levels of endorphins and the other neurotransmitters are released in our brain. Higher levels of endorphins are advantageous for a test-taker because endorphins help bring down levels of stress and pain. Dopamine increases the feeling of happiness and serotonin affects your mood and well-being.
Besides the increase of the release of certain neurotransmitters as discussed above, with regular exercise habits, your memory and thinking skills can go up, according to a study done at the University of British Columbia. Additionally, other studies suggest that those who exercise frequently have greater prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex volumes compared to those who don’t. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the ability to control ourselves and thinking while the medial temporal cortex is responsible for memory. Exercise also helps brain cells live and thrive and can help create new blood vessels in the brain. All of these benefits can only help you test-take better!
Is it smart for me to pick up intense exercise habits right before a test?
No, but light exercise is better than nothing at all! You must know your body and your limits, the last thing you would want to do before a test is push yourself beyond your physical limits to the point of strain or injury. If you can, try to start building exercise habits well in advance of your test.
What do you do, personally?
I take 4-5 exercise classes weekly, ranging from HIIT combos of weights and treadmill, pilates, and yoga. I find personally that doing a late night hot yoga before a test leaves me feeling clear, relaxed and ready for a morning test.
What are my options of commitment?
Level 1: Go for a 4 mile run! Maybe try to get frequent runs or high-impact activity sessions built in your schedule leading up to the test. (And after!)
Level 2: Perhaps an hour long yoga class? Any group led class of moderate strain can be beneficial the night before a test–just make sure to exercise smart and not injure yourself before the big day! Other moderate exercises include dance, swim, squash, tennis, and stair climbing.
Level 3: Jump rope for a bit, walk, or play basketball outside with a friend for 15 minutes. A little exercise is better than none!
Positive Psych Connection/Value:
A pillar of positive psychology is well-being. One of the most practical and scientifically proven ways to increase your body’s well-being is to fuel it with good, clean foods. Some foods have been come to be known as “brain foods”, because of their above-average nutritional value and ability to help us get through demanding mental sessions like the ACT/SAT by being great mental fuel.
Eating the right kinds of foods in the days leading up to your test can be a great way to go above and beyond! Studying in the time leading up to your test can be more effective if you are fueling your brain with great food to keep you focused and not feeling gross and groggy.
Taking a test on an empty stomach can be particularly distracting for the feeling of hunger (never fun) and the grumbling noises your stomach makes which may distract you and other test takers.
What should I look for in a good test-taking snack? Why do brain foods work?
Go for snacks that have a lot of protein or ones with healthy fats that are easy to pack. They’ll keep you feeling full and help your brain function better given their Omega-3 levels.
Low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids can also be linked to having smaller brain volume and performing worse on tests of visual memory, mental acuity, executive function and abstract memory.
*Omega−3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids.
On the other hand, try to avoid sugary, simple carb, or corn-syrup heavy snacks. Though they may be the easier option, they are more likely to make you crash, and therefore lose focus and tired. You also may find yourself craving even more food after consuming these snacks, so make sure to check the nutrition facts!
Some examples of high protein/healthy fat snacks include:
Carrots/Celery and Nut Butter
Carrots/Celery and Hummus
Apple/ Banana Nut Butter
Fruit and Nut Bars
Foods to Avoid:
What about breakfast?
First, DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST!
This meal can be crucial to your performance and mental clarity for the next few hours. Your day-of breakfast should include lots of protein and those brain foods.
Also! Know yourself- if you don’t feel or think your best when (overly) full, watch how much you eat, or if you know coffee* works for you, don’t refrain from including it as part of your morning routine.
Smart Breakfast Options/Meals
Eggs, any style!
Whole Grain Cereal with low-fat milk
Toast with Jam, and Eggs
Any fruits, berries etc.
Stay Away From:
Turkey (Will make you sleepy!)
Coffee* (may increase anxiety)
What foods should I reach for on the day of the test, and before?
Level 1: Make a conscious effort to eat “brain foods” consistently in the time leading up to the test while you are studying. Make a strong effort to eat “brain foods” for dinner and breakfast before your test and make sure to bring a smart choice snack or two for the test!
Level 2: Eat a healthy breakfast* and make sure to pack a wholesome, filling, healthy snack!
Level 3: Pack a hearty “brain food” snack or two for the test.
Positive Psych Connection/Value:
Meditation is a common practice and term concerned with Positive Psych. Meditation and Positive Psych are seen overlapping most during gratitude meditation, where one takes time to reflect and be thankful for all the small and big things in their life. Meditation and mindfulness are an ideal time to reflect on what your personal strengths are, as well as it can be a time to realize what is unnecessarily taking up mental space and energy.
What is meditation, exactly?
Meditation is all about getting to know yourself mentally and emotionally through self reflection. In the sense of Positive Psychology, it is finding what positive states of mind you are already in possession of, and then building upon them and rooting out negative states of mind. Conversely, worrying is the practice of meditation upon negative states of mind that detract from positivity and can create debilitating toxicity and anxiety.
How does practicing meditation and mindfulness help me in the test room?
After practicing meditation and mindfulness, you will find yourself more aware of what is occupying space in your head unnecessarily. If it does not serve you, you don’t need it! When the test comes around, you will need all of your mental focus and will know from your earlier practices of meditation what you can get rid of, and will be able to focus better on the task at hand. By refocusing your attention and priorities, you may be able to develop a stronger, more in-tune mind if you practice meditation early enough in advance of your test.
It has been scientifically tested at the University of California at Santa Barbara (although not with the ACT) to prove that meditation and mindfulness lead to better scores on standardized tests. The study believed that mindfulness and being aware and therefore more in control of their stress and emotions, helped students manage and conquer those feelings.Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared this analogy to describe a mindfulness benefit, saying, “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”
Similarly, Michael D. Mrazek, a grad student working with Jonathan W Schooler, a psych professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that “… mind-wandering underlies performance on a variety of tests, including working memory capacity and intelligence.” They saw that test subject training their mindfulness earned better scores than the other group actively keeping tabs on their nutrition.
How involved can I get with mindfulness and meditation?
Level 1: Practice meditation by devoting 15 minutes a day for a week or more to clearing your mind and focusing on mindfulness. Taking a yoga or meditation class can also be a great way to immerse yourself in a setting of peace and mindfulness.
Level 2: Practice mindfulness while prepping for the test, meditate when you can, even for 5 minutes at a time.
Level 3: Be mindful of your stress and yourself in the test room. Check in with you emotions, see what you can control and focus on the task at hand. Or give the Spotify study/destress playlist below a listen! Also, remember to breathe.
Tips & Tricks!
Below are some tips and tricks I have gathered from experience for the ACT, and from the internet for the SAT, having never taken the test myself. Leave your tips and tricks for reducing stress induced from the college app process and from standardized tests below, on the interactive Padlet. Your input may help a future test taker enormously!
-Get creative with math, also try to dumb the questions down!
-Science, also dumb the questions down to diagram reading
-Skip hard questions you know are holding you back
-Fill in bubbles at the end
-Answer all questions!
-only one right answer, nothing subjective!
-dont ignore passage introductions
-look for direct evidence to support reading answers
-resolve prep math questions before looking at the solution
-memorize all the formulas you can beforehand
-Memorize grammar rules
-Go for more concise English answers, in general
-bring multiple pencils
-Catalog your mistakes so you can learn from then and see which of these four reasons for mistakes you fall into:
- Content weakness
- Time pressure
- Question Comprehension Issue
- Careless Errors
-Get a good night’s sleep!!
-ADVIL! Will help your neck not cramp up!
-Set multiple alarms
-Try to pick out a seat away from the hallway (avoid noise)
-Bring a photo ID
-Try to see the clock
-Bring a silent stopwatch
-Print out your ticket as soon as you get it, keep it somewhere safe where you will remember
-Pack your bag the night before
-Dress in layers, thirst, jacket, winter coat if needed
-Dress comfortably, for you!
– Bring multiple pencils
-Bring extra calc batteries
-If it has been sitting in your bag for a while, clear your calc of any random functions or work
-Wake up your mind and body! Stretch, read, get your mind up
-Only one right answer- nothing subjective!
-Use process of elimination
For more info and questions…
Instagram DM @goapositivepsychmoravec
SOURCES BY CATEGORY:
Meditation and Mindfulness:
Tips & Tricks