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Every Student Needs Academic Confidence

There are few people who have the nerve to endure high-pressure situations without cracking. In sports, uncrackable players are called “clutch.” In the classroom, they’re often called “smart.” But intelligence doesn’t really explain a student’s immunity to nerves. Students who can handle those high-pressure situations have academic confidence.

Intelligence is a measure of knowledge, not ability. It has nothing to do with the way students react when they need to recall information or apply their understanding. Feeling calm and comfortable in those situations is an entirely different skill.

It’s called confidence.

Why Academic Confidence Matters

Academic confidence is the unsung hero of academic success. When students have a strong foundation in knowledge, only a lack of confidence can prevent them from high scores. It is the keystone that holds everything together.

At Ferguson Tutoring, we believe that confidence is so important that we’re giving it away!

On July 24, Ferguson Tutoring launched our first-ever community initiative. We’re calling it the #CampaignforConfidence and the entire campaign is based on one simple truth: students who believe they will perform well often do.

For the entire fall semester, we’ll be telling success stories, providing motivational materials, offering confidence-building techniques for parents and teachers, and sharing real-life strategies normally reserved for paying students!

(As a special bonus, we’re also running a free essay contest to help you prepare for the college application essay. The winners will receive over $3,000 in free tutoring! Learn more and submit your essay here.)

Confidence Improves Mental Health

It is important for all people to have self-confidence, but it is particularly important for teens and adolescents. One study revealed that 70% of girls believe they’re “not good enough” or don’t “measure up,” when considering their looks, relationships, and/or performance in school. This sort of negative self-thought is a problem.

The World Health Organization has stated that “poor mental health can have important effects on the wider health and development of adolescents and is associated with several [negative] health and social outcomes…such as conduct disorders, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, as well as other risk behaviors including those that relate to sexual behavior, substance abuse, and violent behavior.”

Putting teenagers in a position where they feel skilled, strong, and capable in their academics reduces negative self-thought and improves their overall mental health. For us, that benefit is just the cherry on top – but it’s a very important cherry.


Academic Confidence Improves Performance in School

The main reason we value academic confidence is that it allows kids to have more success in the classroom, and that’s what we’re after.

In the past few weeks, we’ll be posting stories about Twin Cities students that describe the mental and emotional changes that have led our students to success. Their experiences show how confidence can transform a student’s academic performance.

If you’re not sure that confidence can have a serious effect on academic performance, you don’t need to take our word for it. Here are a few other pieces we found about the relationship between confidence and performance:

How to Develop Academic Confidence

Intelligence doesn’t cause confidence. You might think that it would, but it’s not true. Every year, we meet new students who learn and study well, yet have little academic confidence, and don’t know how to get it.

That doesn’t keep them from trying, though.

“Self-Medicating” Your Crisis of Confidence

Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right. – Henry Ford

When faced with challenges, we often give ourselves little pep talks. I can do it. I’m smart. I’ll be fine. They’re supposed to get our head straight and clear out the nerves.

These probably work a little bit (there’s a long history of study on the topic of positive affirmations – read about it here.), but if you’re waiting until test day to establish confidence, you’re too late!

Confidence isn’t something you find on your way to the classroom. It’s something you earn long before test day ever arrives.

So, how do you get it? It’s simple: you find someone to help identify and fill the gaps in your skill set, you build the skill in a low-pressure setting, and you practice in a low-stakes (or “no-stakes”) environment.

This approach works because it lets students gain mastery over their skills. It also allows them to experience a bunch of small “wins,” which builds them up emotionally.

Any parent or teacher could use these steps to help kids gain confidence, but nobody implements them better than coaches.

Borrowing from Athletics

For students to succeed academically, they need to practice like athletes. With a little guidance, this should be easy to do. After all, academics and athletics are more similar than they appear.

Every sport and every branch of academics requires a unique set of skills. Swing a bat, pass the ball. Write a sonnet, solve for x. When the time comes to use these talents, however, a whole new set of skills is required, and they’re pretty much the same for everyone.

That’s because, on game day and test day, peak performance requires calmness, time-consciousness, situational awareness, planning, and confidence. This is the model that coaches use to train their athletes, and it’s the same one parents, teachers, and tutors should use with their students.

Build the skill

Athletes practice differently than the way that students study. They don’t just work on big-picture skills, like swinging a baseball bat. They focus on all the microskills that make it possible to swing a bat well.

Place your feet. Put a bend in the knees. Keep your back straight. Elbow up. Head down. Eyes on the ball. Shift your weight. Take a step. Drop the bat through the zone. Roll your hands. Watch the ball all the way onto the bat.

That’s how we need to train students.

It’s not enough to teach them the necessary formulas for finding the area of an irregular shape. They need the microskills to do it well. Here’s a demonstration we used in one of our recent blog posts, but it works here as well.

Guide all efforts

Every time a batter takes his eye off the ball, the coach reminds him to put it back. This is how the batter gains awareness of his shortcomings.

Students need the same guidance. When their work is sloppy, when their procedure is inefficient, or when their calculations are incorrect, students need someone to step in and point out that there’s a problem.

Once a batter is aware that he’s looking away from the pitch, he can focus on correcting the problem. Students can improve that way too.

Another way that adults (or other students) can help guide a student’s efforts are with cheat sheets and notes. Students who are lacking in confidence take comfort in knowing that they have the support of their “coach.” Cheat sheets and notes are ways for the coach to be present, even if they’re not actually around.

Don’t practice in a game setting

There is a common misconception that to perform better in high-stakes situations, you need to participate in high-stakes situations. This may be true for top performers already rich in confidence, but it’s a mistake for students (and athletes) who are lacking in it.

Students need mastery of a skill before they can use it in a stressful environment. That’s why tests are normally held at the end of a chapter and not the beginning. Throwing a low-confidence student into a high-stress, high-stakes situation before they are ready rarely forces them to “rise to the challenge.” More often than not, they stumble and underperform.

For ACT prep, our first practice has no constraints on time, location, or posture. Students can take the practice on a Saturday night, while they lie in bed if they want to. Once we know how they’ve performed, we start building microskills.

After the student shows progress with their microskills, they are ready for a more realistic practice exam. This buildup could take weeks or months, but by the time the real ACT comes around, students are prepared.

How the #CampaignforConfidence is Helping

The conclusions reached in these studies support the results we find in our own sessions. Again and again, we see struggling students come in feeling uncomfortable with a test, a classroom subject, or even an entire branch of learning. We turn these students around using a whole student approach that emphasizes academic rigor, understanding, and – you guessed it – academic confidence.

The #CampaignforConfidence is taking the principles we use with our students and introducing them to a world of students, parents, and teachers who didn’t know that confidence was a skill. We want to improve the academic confidence of students all over the Twin Cities, so we’ll be firing on all cylinders. Keep an eye out for:

In addition to all of that, our founder, Suzy Ferguson is also scheduling free lectures for parents and teachers about how confidence affects academic performance. (We’re still hammering out the details about those, but will provide all the information on our website and Facebook page.)

Do you want to know how you can participate?

Here’s What You Can Do

There’s only a handful of us who work at Ferguson Tutoring, but we want to spread confidence to students all over the country! To do that, we need your help.

Write an essay

The best way to participate is to write a short essay for our FREE essay contest. The essay contest is a way for students to feel more confident about their college application essays. We don’t normally provide essay help to our students, but this is something important we wanted to try.

Every participant gets professional feedback without the all-or-nothing stakes of a real college application. It’s a short, high-speed version of our confidence-building approach. If you submit one of the best or most interesting essays, we’ll give you free ACT prep!

Schedule a lecture

The confidence message is useful for students, but it might be even more useful for parents and teachers. If you want more people to know about how to develop academic confidence, schedule a parent/teacher lecture at your school or organization!

Our founder, Suzy Ferguson, currently offers three talks that emphasize confidence:

  • Preparing for Performance: Emotional Awareness and Academic Success
  • Academic Performance: Anxiety and the High-achiever
  • ACT Success: Finding Your Comfort Zone; Comfort with Structure, Content, and Self

Hit us up on social media!

As you know, social media is a great way for campaigns to spread. You can help the Campaign for Confidence take off if you:

  • Send us a message on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram
  • Share our content on social media when you get some value out of it
  • Use this hashtag often: #CampaignforConfidence
  • Record and send an inspirational video to the juniors of 2017-2018

Not sure what to say? How about this:

When I’m confident, I can _________________________! #CampaignforConfidence