Tag Archives: goals


What Do You Do When Positive Thinking Isn’t Working?? (especially before a big test)

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Think Positive!

What if I can’t?!

As we pull into the last few weeks of the traditional school year, many kids have either taken their EOGs, or are getting started on some form of standardized testing. One of the top test taking skills we can teach is to think positive.  But what if that isn’t the best answer.

So many kids and adults have dealt with difficulties in learning, remembering material, and test taking for so long, that thinking positive feels impossible. When you have worked your tail off studying, practicing, and reading over material, only to sit down to a huge test and have your mind completely blank, positive thinking just seems ridiculous.

However, there is some real science behind the idea that positive thinking can make a difference. When we allow negative thoughts, or self defeating ideas to overtake our brains, we condition ourselves to expect the worst and we often get it.

So what if I proposed to you a middle ground?

Positive thinking is the end goal. We want kids to be able to picture themselves being successful, remembering the material that has been studied, and succeeding on the exam. But there is a lot of pressure out there for these tests, and for a child that struggles, or who has experienced failure on a test before, positive thinking is almost impossible.  Instead we can suggest for them to start with not thinking negatively.

Even if the student who has fought an uphill battle all year in Math, can’t reasonably say to himself that he is a Math expert and he is going to pass the Math EOG (especially if it will be one of the only Math tests he will have passed all year). He CAN stop saying he is bad at Math, or that he is bad at taking tests. The negative thoughts aren’t necessary even if the student can’t bring themselves to say something positive because it feels false.

For the student that struggles with reading, she may not be able to say positive things about reading, or think that the stories she reads on the EOGs are going to be interesting. She CAN stop saying she hates reading, and that writing is awful. She can instead focus on doing her best and using the strategies that her teacher taught her this year.

What is the real goal?

Essentially the goal is not so much to create false positive thinking, because it often gets us nowhere. If we can’t truly believe those positive thoughts, the negative ones are always waiting in the shadows to remind us of our failures when we feel stressed. Instead we stop putting our energy into the negative, and focus on our next steps to a reasonable goal.

Sit down with your child before the big test and discuss reasonable goals for the test. This could be making sure to make notes next to what they are reading, underline key words in the questions, trying to come up with some kind of answer or information before looking at the answer choices, and really checking back over their work (not just seeing if they filled in all the bubbles). The goal shouldn’t be to pass (although this is definitely a hope!). The goal should be a tangible thing they can do, a step they can take in a positive direction. It needs to be something they can take action on. “Passing” is not tangible and it is not a step towards success. It is a score that is assigned based on a percentage of correct responses. Passing is a result not an action.

When you and your student are dealing with negative thoughts, and trying to turn them positive (or at least not think them at all), you need a tangible goal that starts you in the right direction. This goal can be built upon later. Don’t focus on the score. Trust me they are very aware of what it means if they pass or fail. Focus on the success of achieving the tangible goal they set, and eventually the little goals will add up to the achievement of the bigger result. This can be applied to so many things, and I will talk more soon about using the smaller achievements to build motivation, overcome anxiety, and build self-esteem in kids that have lost hope in academics.

But for now, during this stressful time, just help them set that first goal and to end negative thinking, even if they can’t quite bring themselves to do the positive thinking yet. You can even set up a reward that they can give themselves/get at the end of the day if they complete their smaller goal during the test. This could be their favorite dinner or dessert, or even extra time outside or on their favorite video game. You know your child or your students best. Come up with something together to work towards as a goal and a reward, and you just might see a little more positive thinking as a side benefit. 🙂

For more test taking tips check out this page on our website:



I wish the best of luck to all of your students in achieving their smaller goals and switching off the negative voices in their head. Who knows maybe if we all tried cutting out the negativity and setting small achievable goals, it would help us adults to head in a more positive direction too!

We would love to hear any stories of how this helps your student (or you) in the comment section.  Or if you come up with any helpful hints to others as they are trying this, please leave those comments as well!


Amanda Avery 🙂