Academic Performance Explained Podcast

Morgan Bisset

Recent Posts

How to Reduce Test Anxiety Through Increased Mindfulness

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Sat, Dec 06, 2014 @ 14:12 PM

In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews John Hankey, a performance/life coach based in California. John Hankey helps students of all ages use mindfulness techniques to overcome their test or performance anxiety, which usually subsides within three to five sessions.

This is a slightly longer podcast than usual; it is packed with helpful information, and John even walks through a guided meditation for listeners. We highly recommend that you listen to the full episode on iTunes, but here are some of the highlights.

What is mindfulness? What is the difference between mindfulness, meditation, and hypnosis?

Mindfulness consists of any act of being present and aware of what is happening in your body and mind. It is an umbrella term that encompasses meditation, yoga, and some forms of hypnosis.

What are some of the benefits of mindfulness?

Over time, you can strengthen your ability to relax and become able to relax more deeply. This relaxation can have far-reaching benefits, including improving your circulation, boosting your physical health, clearing your mind, stabilizing your emotions, and connecting you to your intuition.

How does relaxation affect your ability to learn?

Often, when you are trying to remember important information, it is natural to tense your body or strain your mind, but this actually impedes your ability to recall information. In fact, a deeply relaxed state can enhance your ability to access memories in the moment. No matter your skill level, going into a standardized test relaxed instead of stressed will probably earn you more points.

It also helps to be relaxed when you are learning new information or studying for a test; this will help you absorb and retain the information better.

How can mindfulness be used to overcome test anxiety?

When John meets with a client, he usually spends the first 10 min getting that person into a state of deep relaxation with a technique called “progressive muscle relaxation,” which involves relaxing each part of your body one at a time.

Next, students imagine that they are taking the test, creating a very vivid mental image. Usually, for students who have test anxiety, visualizing a test scenario will cause their bodies to tense up. Because the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, these visualizations bring up all the same stresses, anxieties, and tensions that the students experience when they are actually in that situation. This allows them to access and address their typical test-taking behavior outside of an actual testing situation.

Finally, they are coached to relax until they are able to experience themselves taking a test while keeping their bodies totally relaxed.


For more information, you can email John Hankey at or check out his radio show, “The Power of Presence, on

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Tags: academic performance, myguru, mark skoskiewicz, mindfulness, anxiety, test anxiety, john hankey, standardized tests

Why Applying to College Starts Freshman Year

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Fri, Nov 07, 2014 @ 08:11 AM

In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz talks to Wendy Friedman of CollegeBound Admissions. Friedman is an independent college counselor who helps students plan for, apply to, and get into college.

When does the college application process start?

Many people believe that the college application process starts in junior or senior year of high school, but that is too late for someone to start becoming a great college applicant. As a student, you build your academic and personal record from the moment you start high school. Colleges care most about your academic record (grades and test scores), and every class counts from ninth grade on. You should always choose the most rigorous classes you can handle and then work hard to perform well.

What should high school students keep in mind as they move towards college to ensure that they will get accepted to their dream school?

Get to know yourself; most students do not really know who they are by the time they are ready to apply to college. You can do this throughout high school by finding classes, extra-curricular activities, and friends that you love. This often means trying things that are initially outside your comfort zone and then sticking with the things that really excite you.

Admissions officers at selective schools report that about 80% of their applicants are academically qualified, so students need to distinguish themselves from the competition in other ways. By developing your personal profile, you can show colleges that you will make a valuable contribution to your future campus community.

What strategies can students use to improve their grades and academic performance?

Always come to class on time. Tardiness can only bring negative attention, and you might miss valuable in-class discussion. Be prepared to participate in class; let your opinions and ideas be heard. Sitting in the front of the class can help you maintain eye contact and pay better attention, which will also improve your participation.

You can go above and beyond teachers’ expectations by going to a local college library and searching for books or articles about subjects being covered in class. Reading professional articles can help you with your writing, and you will be armed with new ideas and theories to bring up in class and incorporate into your papers.

Why is it important to talk to your teachers?

Teachers are an underutilized resource. Many students do not ask their teachers for help, often because they are afraid to admit that they do not understand something. Instead of seeing teachers as people who are just there to evaluate you, see them as people you can actually talk to and get feedback from.

Most teachers will make an extra effort if students make an extra effort; you will not be penalized for asking for help. In fact, your teachers will become your biggest cheerleaders, because they will know you tried really hard. As they get to know you, they will be available to write you letters of recommendation or otherwise help you with the college application process.

What are some common mistakes that college applicants make?

Students often choose schools for the wrong reasons (such as parents, friends, or college rankings) and they forget to form their own opinion. It is never too early to start looking at schools, especially online. Keep an open mind; try not to go by name recognition. When the time comes, you should really know about the schools’ course offerings, communities, professors, and student bodies, and you should have a clear picture of how you might enhance the community.

Students also make the mistake of not showing schools enough interest – colleges like to know that they are wanted. If they admit you, they want to know that you are going to say yes. Once you know that a college is a serious one on your list, you need to demonstrate that interest through communications.

Finally, watch your social media presence. 40% of colleges now check social media during the admissions process, so make sure there is nothing about you on social media that could be perceived negatively. Friedman suggests the “grandma rule” – if you would not want your grandma to see it, then it should not be on social media.

To hear the full interview, check out the episode on iTunes.

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Tags: academic performance, College Applications, College Admissions, admissions essays, wendy friedman, collegebound admissions

Tutoring vs. Executive Function Coaching: A Review

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 @ 07:08 AM

In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Jackie Stachel from Beyond BookSmart, an executive function coaching company. At Beyond BookSmart, coaches work one on one with students to help them develop executive function skills – the self-management skills that help people achieve their goals.

What are executive function skills?

Executive function skills include planning, prioritizing, managing time, regulating emotions, and organizing materials and thoughts. These skills contribute significantly to academic success, but they usually are not taught in a specific class in school.

A student who does not have these skills may struggle with schoolwork; many hard-working, intelligent students do not achieve their full potential because they lack self-management skills. However, anyone who learns and practices these skills can improve his or her academic performance. Self-management skills are the keys to success – not just in school, but in life in general.

Is there a difference between a tutor and an executive function coach? Do you need both?

In fact, there is a pretty big distinction between tutors and executive function coaches; many students work with both concurrently. Tutoring is great for helping students develop skills and areas of knowledge that are subject-specific, usually pertaining to a specific class or standardized test. Executive function coaching, on the other hand, helps students develop general skills to manage their work and themselves – skills they can apply to any class.

For example, if a student has a research paper, an executive function coach might guide the student to plan it, prioritize it, break it down into small steps, and put it on his or her calendar. Then, when that student has a paper due for another class, he or she can apply the same framework to that paper regardless of the subject.

How much can executive function coaching actually impact students?

A key part of executive function coaching is helping students change how they perceive themselves. Initially, many students who are struggling academically think that this is because they are lazy or just do not care about school. However, many students who are perceived as “lazy” are simply demoralized by low self-confidence. They don’t believe their efforts will get them the results they want, so they simply stop trying.

Over time, with gradual work and a consistent connection between coach and student, it is possible to help students gain confidence and see themselves as capable students. This process takes time – there is no quick fix – but students only need to invest a small amount of effort to start seeing results.

Typically, coaches start by first helping students achieve small goals – things the students already know they are capable of doing. As students build a track record of small successes, they gain the confidence to tackle increasingly difficult goals, until finally they are doing things they didn’t know they could.

In addition to coaching, are there any other ways to improve your executive function skills?

In order to develop your executive function skills, you need to recognize the things that typically get you off track and then figure out how to avoid those. Distractions are a major obstacle for most students, and one of the biggest distractions in this day and age is the internet.

One tool that can help you minimize distractions while working is a free app called Self-Control. With this app, you can identify websites that are time drains for you (such as Facebook or Reddit), and specify an amount of time to block yourself from visiting them. Once you have blocked them, there is no way to reverse it until the predetermined amount of time has passed.

You can also improve your executive function skills by working to better manage your emotions. Emotions can seriously influence academic performance; first of all, students typically do not do as well if they are frustrated or have a negative attitude towards the work they are supposed to do.

In addition, when people are upset and agitated, they are not able to efficiently access their higher-level thought processes. Therefore, when you are stressed, it is actually more difficult to think properly. This makes it very important for students who get test anxiety to have resources that can help them calm down before taking tests.

One helpful tool is, which features effective, free guided meditations. These are great for beginners, because they have verbal instructions and range anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes in length (so you can start off small). These meditation audios are available as mp3 files, or you can access them on your smartphone or iPad.

Interested in learning more?

For more information about Beyond BookSmart, visit There, you can find blog posts and other free content, including tips on regulating emotions, transitioning from middle school to high school, and writing an effective college application essay.


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Tags: podcast, executive function, beyond booksmart, jackie stachel

Exploring Intelligence: Hardware vs. Software

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 @ 09:07 AM

In this episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Payman Saghafi, who has spent over a decade researching the nature of intelligence. Saghafi identifies the different types of intelligence and explains some of the latest neuroscience research.

Key Insight #1: When it comes to measuring intelligence, IQ is far from the whole story.

When most people think of intelligence, they think of psychometric intelligence, the type of intelligence measured by IQ tests. You can think of this as the "hardware" that you are born with - hardware that determines how quickly your brain processes information, for example. Research has proven that psychometric intelligence can be measured, and also that, surprisingly, it changes over time and can be improved.

Arguably more important than psychometric intelligence is functional intelligence, the real-world, applied intelligence that you demonstrate on a day to day basis. This type of intelligence is clearly built up over time, and it depends heavily on the choices you make: how often you study, how much you pay attention, what questions you ask, etc. You are displaying functional intelligence when you employ grammar rules, follow perceived social conventions, or draw connections between data from multiple sources. It can be helpful to think of functional intelligence as the "software" that runs on your psychometric "hardware."

Because IQ tests only measure one type of intelligence, they do not tell the whole story; it is the combination of hardware and software that really matters. In fact, your brain's "software" may actually be more important than its hardware. Consider two computers. One is highly powerful, but it has no software installed on it. It costs $5,000 because of its blazing processing speed and memory capacity. The other computer costs $1,000 and has only average hardware and processing speed. However, it is pre-loaded with extremely useful software and apps such as Word, Excel, Twitter, etc. Which computer seems more effective, useful, and "intelligent"?

Key Insight #2: It may even be possible to increase your natural intelligence.

Recent studies on working memory (the amount of information you can mentally juggle at one time while thinking and problem-solving) suggest that some people who train their working memories can improve their performance on certain tasks.

Other research has shown that over the course of a decade, simply attending school will generally lead to an increase in IQ. So, by studying hard and making the right choices, you can actually build both your functional intelligence and your psychometric intelligence.

Key Insight #3: Academic success is often the result of studious behavior - NOT superior intelligence.

Individuals do have varying levels of psychometric intelligence (better or worse "hardware"). For instance, the average person is probably not capable of becoming the world's greatest physicist, regardless of effort. With a highly quantitative and academic subject such as physics, a person's brain may need to be set up to think in extremely complex ways in order to succeed at a world-class level.

However, most people are not aiming for that level of mastery; most people have reasonably attainable goals. And, relative to becoming a world-class physicist, even a goal such as "earning straight A's and getting admitted to Harvard" could be considered reasonably attainable.

Differences in long-term behaviour can result in wide variations in the amount of knowledge students absorb and the levels of skill they can apply in specific areas. One important aspect of behavior is how closely students pay attention on a day to day basis, over a long period of time; in school, students tend to be rewarded above all for paying good attention.

On the other hand, poor performance can result for students who are frequently distracted or for students who fail to notice which lessons their teachers highlight as especially important.

If two students are getting significantly different results in terms of performance,this does not necessarily indicate any difference at all in raw, "hardware-based" psychometric intelligence. One student may simply have been paying more attention and working harder to build his or her skills over a very long period of time.


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Tags: academic performance, intelligence, podcast, psychometric, IQ, brain science

Developing a Customized Study Plan

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @ 08:06 AM

In the fourth episode of our podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Mike Zilis, a political science professor at DePaul University. In this podcast episode, Zilis discusses the importance of creating a customized study plan to improve academic performance.

Key Insight from Podcast #4

Every customized study plan should include three components: concepts, mindset, and explicit preparation for test day.

When most people study for a test, they simply focus on learning the concepts that are likely to be tested. However, people often forget that their generalmindset and confidence level and ability to execute to the best of their ability under pressure can be just as important in determining their test scores.

Successful students tend to be realistic optimists. They recognize their weaknesses, but they are still confident that they can improve their scores as long as they put in the work.

It is also important to prepare for test day itself. Taking a standardized test can be a high-pressure situation, and everyone handles this pressure differently.With practice, you become more comfortable performing under pressure.  So, it is important to take timed practice tests before test day.  This type of practice will help you build confidence. In addition, it will actually make you better at actually taking the test, as opposed to just doing individual problems.

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Tags: academic performance, studying, test prep strategies, study skills, study habits

How to Build Your Math Muscle: Tips for Improving Your Math Skills

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

In the third episode of our new podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz interviews Kevin Rocci, an educator and test prep expert from Magoosh. This podcast, aimed at people who feel like they aren’t good at math, gives some sound advice for how to improve your math skills.

Key Insights from Podcast #3

1.     With practice, anyone can be good at math.

Many people believe that some people are inherently good at math, while others are not. The truth is, anyone can be good at math. Math ability is similar to weight-lifting – over time, with practice, you can build your skills and improve your performance.

One way to get better at math is to push yourself to do more mental math. For instance, when you’re at a restaurant, try calculating the tip in your head instead of using the calculator on your phone. People who feel comfortable with math tend to do these types of mental calculations frequently.

2.     There are multiple levels of understanding.

Most people think of understanding as black and white – you either understand something, or you don’t. Instead, Magoosh describes understanding as a gradual process consisting of incremental levels. These levels range from Level 0 (you don’t understand something at all) to Level 6 (you understand something well enough to explain it to someone else).

If you see understanding as having different levels, you can better recognize when you’re making subtle progress. You can also recognize when you may have more work to do; if you think you understand something, but you can’t explain it to someone else, you may not fully understand it.

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Tags: academic performance, podcast, myguru, mark skoskiewicz, math, studying, math skills, magoosh

Podcast #2: Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Posted by Morgan Bisset on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 @ 15:03 PM

In the second episode of our new podcast, MyGuru founder Mark Skoskiewicz shares some of Carol Dweck’s research about how mindset affects performance. He explains the difference between two mindsets about intelligence – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset – and how these different viewpoints can affect academic performance.

Key Insights from Podcast #2

1. There are two common ways people think about intelligence.

The first mindset is the “fixed” mindset. People with this mindset believe that your level of intelligence is mostly a result of your genes. They believe that everyone is born with an innate set of talents that they need to learn to work with.

The other common mindset is the “growth” mindset. People with the growth mindset believe it is possible for them to become good at anything. They strongly believe in the power of learning, understanding their mistakes and improving over time.

2. Mindset matters more than you think

People with the fixed mindset tend to shy away from things they believe they aren’t good at. They try to focus on things they are good at and avoid the rest. For instance, if someone with a fixed mindset believes that he or she is bad at math, that person may avoid taking challenging math classes.

In contrast, people with the growth mindset are more likely to take risks and try things they don’t know how to do, because they see this as a learning opportunity. Because of this, people with the growth mindset are more likely to improve over time in areas they were initially weak in.

As a parent, you can cultivate a growth mindset in your kids by praising them for effort instead of intelligence. Promote the idea that they can improve and grow by putting in effort, and they will reap the benefits of the growth mindset. 

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Tags: academic performance, intelligence, podcast, growth mindset, mindset, Carol Dweck