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Brains process information in different ways. Often the human brain is likened to a machine. To use this analogy, sometimes the 'cogs' of the machine run smoothly – doing all that they are supposed to do within a timely and expected manner; in other instances, the 'cogs' get jammed and cannot move as expected; whereas sometimes the 'cogs' vary in pace, with some moving very quickly – resulting in impulsive behaviour, while in many instances, high ability students tend to 'overthink', generating more possibilities than are presented, thus slowing down the 'cogs' of the brain, impacting the thinking and decision-making process.

When high-ability students are provided with four alternatives in a multiple-choice test, it is not at all unusual for them to generate several other alternatives to consider.  They tend to spend more time than is appropriate to complete the task, thinking slowly through the various possibilities, generating more options than are presented and 'overthinking' the question. The answer that is correct may appear too simple; the student believes the teacher is trying to trick students or that an option may be incorrect under certain circumstances.  Ideally high-ability students should be prepared for such a task by being told that they should select the best answer from the available options presented rather than trying to identify the perfect response for every occasion and reviewing everything that they have ever learned about the topic during the process of selecting an answer.   Processing.jpg 

Appropriate preparation for a test should include instruction about time-management, e.g., 'there are x items to be completed in y time' … so a quick calculation of how much time is available for each question or section is helpful to guide a student to establish an appropriate pace, to keep on track and complete the task within the allocated timeframe. Some students have difficulty with planning, time management and working backwards from a completed task to understand how to initiate and how to proceed in order to complete a set task. In class, these students with considerable capabilities might become diverted by additional thoughts that might start off connected to the main topic but follow various branches of thought to consider diverse possibilities. This might occur even with questioning during class time, slowing down their processing speed, consequently their response time and ability to focus on the current topic.

Students who are creative and divergent in their thinking may be distracted by thinking about other, more creative possibilities. This needs to be considered and planned for.  Students who combine imaginative ideas with a pattern of overthinking, tend to experience anxiety.  They can imagine all the things that could go wrong and constantly dwell upon, or think about, these possibilities.  The internal anxiety that is generated through thinking generates a feeling which prompts certain behaviours.  The thinking, feelings, behaviour axis creates a situation which can 'clog up' the brain's 'cogs', further slowing down the thinking process. Understanding that processing capability and speed are different is important as the 'cogs' may function slowly, but well, when the individual is allowed sufficient time to think. 

© Michele Juratowitch 

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Last reviewed 19 May 2021
Last updated 19 May 2021