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Good Luck on the Math Exam

How many times have you said those words...to students or even yourself? But, what role does luck play in the taking of an exam?

Is luck a state of mind? Are some people luckier tha others? And if a person feels lucky, is that an advantage...even on a mathematics exam?

To research some of these questions, Richard Wiseman created a "luck lab" at the University of Hertfordshire in England. First, he used a questionnaire to separate 700 subjects according to their self-description of being lucky or unlucky (and some neutrals). Then some interesenting results appeared:

  • Though lucky people were twice as confident when buying lottery tickets, there was no difference in their winnings
  • Lucky people were far more satisfied with all areas of their lives relative to family life, personal life, financial situation, health and career
  • Significant differences occured on a personality measure in the areas of extroversion, neuroticism, and openness
So what does this have to do with a mathematics exam? Using the neuroticism dimension, Wiseman discovered that people who felt lucky were half as anxious as those who felt unlucky. Also, lucky people were more open to new experiences, were not bound by convention, and liked the possibility of "unpredictability." Finally, "expectation also plays a role in luck. Lucky people expect good things to happen, and when they do they embrace them."

So, we need to encourage students to feel lucky...as that seems to translate into postive effects in learning mathematics via lower anxiety, more openness, and positive expectations. So, good luck teaching mathematics tomorrow...!

Source: M. Shermer's "As Luck Would Have It," Scientific American, April 2006, p. 35.