Why Some Kids Flourish and Others Fail Under Pressure


These days, the stakes are higher than ever for kids to perform well on standardized tests.

From state-required testing throughout elementary, middle and high school, to AP exams and the SATs, students are bombarded with daunting tests that can fill some students with intense anxiety.

The New York Times recently looked at why some kids succeed under pressure, and why others can fail miserably.

This piece follows two brothers, Noah and Jacob, who were raised in the same household yet have extremely different reactions to academic pressure. Noah opted out of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (using a broad religious and ethical exemption) because he would get physically ill from test anxiety. But Jacob is completely unfazed by tests. “You would think he doesn’t even care,” their mother Kathleen Muthler marveled. “Noah has the panic and anxiety for both of them.”

Recent scientific research and a breakthrough study from Taiwan are starting to shine some light onto this issue. In addition to external factors (like our environment, skills and experience), there is also a genetic component that contributes to how different people handle test anxiety.

Scientists have located one particular gene, the COMT gene, that could possibly explain why one child might be prone to be a “wOrrier,” while another could be a true “wArrior.” And while this research is still in the early stages, recent results show that people with the “worrier-genes” can still handle stress, as long as they’re prepared and well-trained.

This piece was originally published on Noodle.org, the first and only life-long education search engine.

Click here to read more about these fascinating studies and learn more about testing anxiety in the complete article from the New York Times.