I’d like to begin this post with something a little bit fun: a method to predict the scores your classmates will get on their math tests. (Disclaimer: Our middle school’s honour program is generally regarded as hard… though I strongly disagree with that sentiment. It’s mostly mindset that filters out people and makes them do bad, but more on that later.)

The Shower Test

I claim that there is a way to predict what someone will get on a math test of “fair” difficulty (meaning not so easy everyone aces, or so hard everyone bombs) by asking only one question. Better yet, it doesn’t relate to math (sort of) and can be answered in 5 seconds.

This question is, “When’s the last time you’ve thought of math in the shower?”

I won’t provide a “formula” or anything based off of the value (in days) because 1) it depends on the difficulty of the test 2) depends on the demographic of kids (would be different if you asked some “average” kids vs. people who took the AMC 10) and 3) most importantly is something you have to judge based off of gut. (Though it will still probably work for complete strangers, if you have a rough idea what demographic they fall into.)

But as a proof of concept, I’ll give you a couple of predictions I made recently.

Proof of Concept

Person A: “I thought of the Geo Bee yesterday.”

Me: “That doesn’t count.” (Geo Bee was an in class assignment, though the questions on it are fine.)

Person A: “Then it was 2-3 days ago, probably.”

My prediction was, at minimum, they would get an A-. They made a comment demonstrating they had the right mindset (i.e. they don’t care what’s on the test, just do problems), so I’m quite confident that my prediction is right. If it’s off, it’ll be because Person A blows the test out of the water.

Person B: “I don’t remember what I think of in the shower.” (If someone doesn’t remember, ask for when they thought of it in car or in bed.)

Me: “Car/Bed.”

Person B: “3 days ago, more or less.”

My prediction’s range was quite large; shower makes it much more accurate. I predicted anywhere between a B+ to an A, which probably doesn’t tell them anything (though it is good proof of concept for me).

What’s the Point?

When you shower, your thoughts tend to drift. The places your thoughts drift towards tells a lot about your priorities. As for me, a couple of places my thoughts drift to:

  1. Math
  2. Debating whether to main Joker or Pichu in Smash
  3. Physics
  4. Assortments of video games

And I would say that if you translate “main debate” to “Smash” then you have a pretty good ordered list of stuff I’m good at/care about.

Another thing to note (that people probably would miss, and I missed my first couple of times thinking about this) is that I never claimed that this is the “easy fix” to getting good at math. If it was, I’d tell everyone to think about math in the shower and I’d be saved the post-test depression slog. But the very reason it works as a test is the reason it doesn’t work as a fix: Where your thoughts drift is where your priorities lie. Simply put, you cannot force yourself to think of something in the shower.

But knowing where your priorities lie is the best way to put them back into order. That’s why it’s important to know where they lie. After all, you can’t fix a problem without knowing what it is.

Where did Society Go Wrong?

I’m sure you’ve heard “you just need the right mindset to succeed” during Health or whatever. This annoyed me very much and still annoys me (though for different reasons). I think the main thing is that they really aren’t telling you how to evaluate your mindset or why it matters; I’m pretty sure many people would’ve appreciated knowing the significance of it earlier, and still others could benefit greatly. (For example, knowing this tidbit about the shower.)

I think this is because whoever is writing the curriculum doesn’t know the first thing about personal success. (Perhaps this is the reason they are an “educator,” whatever that means.)

And as a final thought, don’t fantasize of success in something so much that you lose sight of what that “something” is.

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