Make Sure You Take the Easy Way Out

     

    Our body heats up, our feet start shifting uncomfortably, and an icy sweat envelops us. The feeling of debilitating anxiety caused by that very first stumper problem effectively blocks us from thinking clearly on all of the rest, and we spiral into a stage of test-induced depression.

    Studies in 1967 and 1975 by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman attribute such despair to a condition called “learned helplessness.” Seligman theorized that exposure to events or challenges beyond our control (such as that seemingly impossible question 13) leads to a decrease in learning ability and abject despondency. When faced with a quandary that all our hours of study can’t solve, we subconsciously conclude that our best efforts have become futile. As a result, we are less inclined to try to our full capacity on the following problems and rapidly dive into a rut of despair usually manifested as ceiling staring.

    This gloomy attitude of helplessness and resignation was initially seen during Seligman’s experiments, in which two groups of dogs were exposed to electrical shocks. The dogs in the first group were given control of their situation through the ability to press a button and thus stop the shocks for both groups. Those in the second group, though, had to rely on the first group’s button-pressing to avoid discomfort. When later given a basic learning exercise, the dogs of the first group solved the problems faster. Those of the second group, however, whimpered and flopped on the ground, convinced that any effort on their part would be worthless.

    As we are inveterate despairers, our lives are often plagued by similar situations. And unfortunately for us, the mentality of relative impotence has far-reaching consequences, even beyond the demoralizing stretch of missed answers on the Scantron. Many health challenges such as sedentary lifestyles or dieting problems are hard to overcome because people have no faith in their ability to improve. Similarly, students who have had difficulty with certain subjects (cough, cough calculus) establish a mental block in their minds and struggle to learn that subject in the future, even when attempting easy problems.

    It is certainly easy, and even somewhat gratifying, to succumb to the forces of despondency. This is especially true when camped out at a desk in the middle of the night attempting to decipher some inscrutable concepts. As we laze about feeling sorry for ourselves because of one lapse in understanding, we are all too ready to give up and resign ourselves to bittersweet defeat.

    But rest assured, there’s a simple way to evade this morass of anguish: Heed the words that the California Standardized Testing and Reporting Test instructions have had every year since the 2nd grade. Just do the easy ones first. You’ll stare at the ceiling a lot less.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $210
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal