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Tests have a way of making us feel naked and exposed, revealing our flaws, showing what’s best kept under wraps.

I get it. Those test outcomes can mean the difference between passing a class, or not, but a test doesn’t have to define your future success. How you go forward is shaped by what you do when something goes awry. When that test score is your worst, or its just below the tenth of a point that pushes you to the next level, you don’t have to camp there.

So, what do you do?

1. Cry if you need to, or wail and gnash teeth – just don’t go blasting negatively on social media and blaming others. You’re trying to move forward, not backwards.
2. Consider. Honestly evaluate what happened. Did you study? Did you put time and energy and thought into learning the material? Was there something you didn’t understand? Was there something that surprised or blindsided you? Did you assume you were only to study a certain number of items and didn’t bother with anything else? Did you memorize data but not comprehend the concepts so that you couldn’t make sense of an application question? Notice all of these questions are about you – not the test items, not the teacher, not the school, not your classmates. Why? Because it is about you and your responsibility of ownership.
3. Improve. Only you can create your academic improvement. After thinking about what went wrong on that test, start thinking about what can make it better. Maybe that means devoted time to study with flashcards, using the electronic study tools that come with most textbooks, making your own quizzes, or teaming with classmates. Maybe that means owning that learning takes effort and you need to prioritize other things in your life for it to happen. Or, maybe that means you need to have a heart to heart discussion with your instructor for their suggestion.
4. Focus. Its hard to feel positive when we have a miserably failing test score. Give yourself a pep talk and refocus on the end goal. A failed test does not define you, but your response does.

Troubles are both resident and transitional.  Nothing is ever exactly perfect and the things that cause worry or irritation are always changing.  As soon as we fix one problem, another, smaller or larger, less or more impacting, comes along.  

So what does a student do when the trouble he or she faces is overwhelming and affecting studies?  

Punch the dough, or if you are offended by the word “punch”, refold.  

Okay, what does that even mean?  Briefly, when bakers make bread dough, they add yeast that metabolizes the simple sugar of the starch molecules which in turn produces carbon dioxide and alcohol.  The gases cause the bread to rise, creating holes in the dough. We punch, folding the dough back on to itself so the yeast and air are redistributed, resulting in a finer grain of bread, better form, and better taste.  

So how does this apply to troubles when you’re a student?  The troubles that affect students are like the gas bubbles in the bread, creating holes and leaving gaps in your studies, often reflecting on learning, attendance, and even hindering your vision and goals.  Ignoring the problems allow them to grow and manifest into more complex issues that can derail you. In other words, you can go through school and come out half-baked.  

The first step is to identify what is affecting your success at school.  Transportation, day care, and relationship issues are all factors that greatly impact students.  Sometimes the issues are so involved that it’s hard to figure out which one is the catalyst.  Go ahead and write them out, one by one.  That’s our first punch. 

Second, look at your list and decide which of the factors you and only you can take an action to change.  This is important because you cannot make other people change or take action, only yourself.  Your action might be asking another student for a ride, talking to family about day care, or putting a relationship on hold.  It might be deciding that you will not let the words of another person hurt you.  Or it may be that you realize you can’t change someone else or a circumstance, but you can change your perspective and what you do going forward so that you can reach your goals.  Punch number two. 

Third, write out your action plan of solutions – the things YOU will do, not what other people may do.  We do this because when we write it out, we see the action we need to take and when we accomplish it, we can cross it off.  Having that plan in writing helps us when emotions threaten to divert and overcome us.  Some actions are more difficult than others, and sometimes we have to revise as more obstacles and circumstances pile on. It’s okay. We are still punching out the troubles because we are identifying them, thinking about our own role in what to do, making a plan, even it isn’t always the one that works the first time. Add another punch here.

Lastly, and this is both important and uncomfortable for some yet greatly fosters success, is sharing your plan with a trusted adviser and checking in to discuss your progress.  A student counselor, professor, or coach can be your accountability partner in this.  We all need to be accountable for what we do, at home, school, and work.  It’s our ownership of ourselves, and the final punch to working through troubles.  

Each time we punch our way through a problem as a student, we are honing our life and career skills, creating a finer perspective and ability to manage our future, forming ourselves as owners of who and what we are, now and later.

Troubles will always be around, but the heady aroma of your fully baked success is just a punch away.  

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