Harness your Inner Growth Mindset this Exam Season

All this rain makes for a gloomy June for us all but perhaps even more so for the millions stuck inside revising or sitting GCSEs, A levels, degree exams or year-end tests. But every cloud has a silver lining, especially if you have a growth mindset and a positive outlook on life.

Exam Doom and Gloom

Preparing for and sitting exams is tough by anyone’s standards. Those involved (including long-suffering parents and teachers) are no doubt crossing their fingers and hoping that all the collective work over the last academic year and recent months in particular is enough to get everyone through.

But perhaps it’s not just all about the revision. Attitude and mindset can make all the difference, especially if we cultivate a more positive outlook via a growth mindset. Increasingly popular now, the concept of growth vs. fixed mindset is often used to help determine how successfully individuals and organisations can achieve their goals.

 Why a growth mindset could make the difference

The concept of growth vs. fixed mindsets is all about where you believe ability and intelligence originate. Fixed mind-setters believe that exam or career success stems only from innate ability (a ‘fixed’ theory of intelligence), whereas advocates of a growth mindset believe that success is based on hard work, learning, training and tenacity or perseverance – in other words, a ‘growth’ or ‘incremental’ theory of intelligence.

Many people won’t know which type of mindset they have, but there’s a big clue in how they respond to setbacks, for example. Exam sitters with a fixed mindset see failure as a negative statement on their abilities, while their growth counterparts believe that failure brings opportunities for learning and improved performance. A growth mindset could have a positive influence on self-belief, which we know is a crucial element of resilience, and therefore it’s clear to see how this outlook could make a difference when it comes to surviving exam season.

There are a number of benefits associated with a Growth Mindset, however, some of the main advantages for all those preparing for or in the midst of exams or assessments include:

  1. Resilience – Challenges experienced during exams or revision, for example an unexpected tricky paper or missing revisions notes, are unlikely to deter those with a growth mindset. These individuals are more likely to continue working hard towards their goals in the face of exam or revision setbacks whereas many fixed mind-setters perceive obstacles as a reflection of their inability and therefore struggle to regain focus and remain motivated.
  2. Willingness to take on challenges – People with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges as opportunities for development, enhancing skills and achievements.
  3. Learning from failure – Growth mind-setters see exam or revision failure as an opportunity for learning, improvement and progression towards the pursuit of success, rather than a negative outcome that’s incapable of being put right – that difficult exam paper might just stimulate a different perspective to assist with future exams or assessments for those who take a more positive ‘growth’ outlook.
  4. Drives intrinsic motivation – For growth mind-setters, achievement and improvement is within grasp if they invest the additional effort and time required to achieve their learning and exam goals. A fixed mindset could contribute more readily to a sense of defeat, reducing an individual’s belief in their own capacity to positively influence future outcomes.

How to harness your Growth Mindset this summer

For all of you getting ready to embark on this critical phase in your academic or professional life, and for everyone already progressing through their exam schedules, here are a few tips that could help you to shift your mindset towards the ‘growth’ end of the spectrum:

  1. Determine your goals – achieving a growth mindset requires realistic yet challenging goals that motivate you to work towards achieving the desired outcomes. Try to keep revision goals outcome focussed. So, ‘today I will revise the topic of X in Biology’ rather than ‘today I will do five hours’ revision’.
  2. Seek insight and accept feedback – being open to others’ insight and accepting of constructive feedback provides an opportunity for growth. Reach out to your fellow students and ask them what revision tools and techniques work for them. You may find that some also work for you too.
  3. Embrace an open mind – be honest about how revision/exams are going and be prepared to change your approach if necessary. Be open to considering alternative ways of revising or tackling exam questions, seeking support from teachers or other students where necessary; your usual approach may have generated some success so far, but are there other ways that could further advance your progression towards a positive outcome?
  4. Make the commitment – take the initiative, invest the effort and dedicate the time needed to achieve exam success. We live in a fast-paced, instant-gratification world, but sometimes there are no shortcuts or instant fixes and your degree of commitment will determine the extent to which you succeed in making a positive shift towards a growth mindset.

So, we wish the best of luck to all those who are taking exams this summer, and hope that everyone gets the results required to progress to the next stage of their education or career. But it’s also important to remember that exams are just one part of the mix. Other attributes, such as resilience, positivity and a growth mindset, also play an important role in a person’s future success.