Aim to pass the exam rather than avoid failing it


UPDATE: I had linked to the wrong page in the first version of post this morning. All fixed now, although for those of you who were diverted to the recipe it will definitely help induce positive emotions (more on that below).

I have recently attended a resilience and wellbeing course where the concept of negativity bias was discussed.

I have mentioned the concept previously on this blog.

In the current course, the instructors discussed he research of Rozen and Roysman (2001) which showed we will generally be more motivated to avoid a negative outcome rather than to achieve a positive one. Hence our focus becomes on defeat (avoidance) rather than success. I often hear candidates say, “I really don’t want to fail the exam”. Less often do I hear, “I really want to pass the exam”

I propose that you actively counteract this tendency, when studying and talking about the exam, such that you talk about what you can do to pass the exam rather than what you can do to avoid failing.

Perhaps this seems like a very subtle change of reference and why does it matter because  the end result is the same – exam completed successfully.

The positive frame of reference enables you to capitalise on the benefits of using positive emotions to drive you. When we are driven by negative emotions we tend to become very singleminded and tunnel visioned. Our ability to problem solve and consider alternate approaches decreases. Perhaps single mindedness is a good thing for the exam. However the proposed benefits of reframing our experience to use positive emotion, is that we are able to “broaden and build” our thinking. When studying under a positive reference, you are likely to have greater mental flexibility, be able to consider more options and use more of your cognitive resources to achieve the task at hand.

Does this sound like something you would give a go?

Here is a TED talk given by one of the main investigators in the area, Barabara Fredrickson, talking about the benefits of operating under the effect of positive emotion.

I hope that all of you experience some positive emotion this weekend. It doesn’t have to be bliss (although that does sound good), but perhaps one of the others, serenity, interest, love, awe…

…and from now on when thinking or talking about the exam, talk about how you are going to pass!

3 thoughts on “Aim to pass the exam rather than avoid failing it

    1. Yes, Primarylos. Our brains are good at filtering out the NOT so all it sees is the fail. A bit like the try NOT to think about an huge white elephant


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