Home Winsights
No. 79 (November/December 2004)

Improving Your Performance on
Standardized Exams

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.


From time to time, I receive letters from students who are asking, not how to improve their learning but how to improve their performance on tests and on standardized exams. There is plenty of information floating around on strategies of test-taking; I don't propose to repeat these. What I do offer here are several suggestions not available elsewhere which I think will also make a substantial improvement in test performance.


1.  Practice and Develop Visual Thinking Skills

I would very strongly recommend practicing Image-Streaming — not only because it builds necessary connections in and across your brain, but because such practice will help you to better visualize relationships, quantity and relationships being the major part of math and, I suspect, no small part of your major field of study as well.

Timing issue:  it takes several months for the non-verbal skills benefits of the practice of Image-Streaming to work their way into the patterns of how you think and perceive. A few of those benefits do work right away, but the main effects may take two to three months or even longer. You should pack as much practice of Image-Streaming as you reasonably can into the next week or so, to give adequate time for its effects to build up in your brain relevant to your exams-taking, before taking those exams. If verbal and reading comprehension are important in those test scores, you should keep up the Image-Streaming after those first several weeks, because that yields and continues to yield immediate benefits on verbal-related performance.


2.  Improve Your Attention-Span and Awareness Span — by Improving Your Breathing-Span

If there's an indoor pool in your area, you may want to do our held-breath underwater swimming to extend your breathing-span, span of attention and span of awareness — and, arguably, to improve the physical working condition and health of your brain, as per the article and instructions in our online ebook, Two GUARANTEED Ways to Profoundly Improve Your Intelligence.


3.  How To Breathe Your Way to a Much Clearer State

To help you keep your cool with the exam, you might want to start accumulating practice time with our Calm-Breathing Patterns, especially Noise-Removal Breathing. If you've ever had that calm clear feeling of playing a perfect game of chess, or some computer game that you got very calm with and did extremely well in, you might practice anchoring that feeling and see if you can bring that feeling with you into the exam situation.


4.  Visualizing and Perceiving Relationships

AFTER some rounds of practice with Image-Streaming, you might systematically set out to visualize, as best you can, some of the relationships addressed in the problems and questions you are likely to face on the test. This is especially so for the physical sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, math and engineering. You might start with very elementary relationships and see if you can build to more involved ones. But I think the Image-Streaming has to come first, else the directed visualizations — or lack of success with same — could get frustrating. With the Image-Streaming, this directed visualization practice should become both easy and rewarding for you, and the problems and questions on your exams will speak to your actual experience and a much wider range of your brain and mental resources, rather than being elusive and almost-incomprehensible abstractions.

Beyond visualization per se, find ways to increase your neurological contact with the issues you will be addressing. Some suggestions for that are given in the first part of the ebook, Beyond Teaching and Learning. Do some of that to help you engage with the problems on the test; do a LOT of that if you want to be something more than just a cookbook engineer applying other people's stuff forever (this part is from one of my letter replies to an engineering student, but I think it applies far beyond just the subject of engineering).


5.  Practice the "Borrowed Genius" Method

"Borrow some Genius." Enjoy a few rounds of the practice experience of being a genius at the skills and knowledge being measured on the test. That experience is guided step by step in our Borrowed Genius process. Capture not only specific insights and a love and confidence of what you will later be tested for, but the feeling in your body of what it'd be like to be on an accurate, positive "roll" in that context, and carry something of that feeling with you into the exams, so that your limbic brain — including the amygdala — will direct your cerebral cortex toward better and fuller performance.


6.  Beyond the Stock Answer to In-Depth Grasp

Please see and examine together the Freenoting, Final Exam and Windtunnel procedures and, if possible, find a partner with whom to do a Windtunnelling question or so. From the gist of those three procedures:  take the main concepts, in your major and/or any other subject in which you are likely to be tested, and turn these into questions. Are you more comfortable with writing by hand on paper, with keyboarding at your computer, or with recording into audio? Whichever of those you are most comfortable with, take one of those questions. More than answer it — Freenote it or Windtunnel it, carrying long minutes further than you have answers "stocked" for that question — it's when you've run out of things to say and have to keep going, in the "flounder-around-and-dig" stage, that you uncover fresh perceptions about the subject. Do this in turn for each of the main issues likely to be addressed during your exams.

Explore this in-depth, explore your new insights on each of these, to the point where you can re-condense them into short form for immediate (and more appropriate than before) response to items presented in your exams, and that they instantly and meaningfully support the applications you will need to recognize and make.


7.  Managing Your States of Mind and Being

Beyond specific techniques, a goal to build toward is to muster something of a love for what you are about to be tested on, and a gentle positive-relish excitement toward taking the exam itself. And yet, your goal should also be, before and during exam time, to park these at the back of a deep, clear calm such as sometimes accompanies your best performance in any activity, not only chess or computer games as mentioned above. Once you've built something of these three states, you might practice the "noise-removal breathing" referenced above, as consciously as you can, "breathing up and away whatever had been standing between you and full actualization of those states and full clarity for your exams."



I am much, much more interested in building the skills and understanding those exams purport to measure than I am in simply increasing test performance scores. Many of the methods offered on this website can be used to build — rapidly and easily and meaningfully — skills and understanding in almost any subject, especially subjects which involve some degree of understanding such as the physical sciences, the social and behavioral sciences, the arts, math or engineering. However, reality also demands those better test scores. These suggestions, in large steps and in small steps, should give you some manageable specific ways to work toward your desired outcomes.


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Win Wenger

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