Q&A with Maurice Wright

Exams and Executive Functioning: Q&A with Maurice Wright

The Chicago Family Tutor exists to provide students, individuals and families with the support they need to reach their goals, manage their lives with confidence and develop habits that cultivate joy and peace in their lives. But for many people, test-taking is a real and/or perceived obstacle to their goals and a great source of anxiety and overwhelm. So in this interview with Maurice, we’re going to dig into test-taking, executive function, and what has shaped and formed him along the way to be doing what he does now as a coach and professional.

Maurice has been an academic and standardized test prep tutor for more than 12 years. After graduating from Columbia University in 2009, he began providing his services throughout the Tri-State area to middle and high school students. Over the last eight years, Maurice has also accrued extensive experience designing websites and producing educational content.

Q: What were your test taking skills like as a student and how did that impact your own belief about your capabilities?

A: I was a really good test taker, and I believe that comes from preparation, but also standards. You prepare based on the goal you’re trying to reach, you prepare based on what you believe is expected of you. And the younger you are, the more you get used to striving to reach a high bar. It just becomes second nature. So I was a good test taker because my parents always had the backdrop of, “Listen, you could meet these standards or we could send you to Jamaica and you could figure it out there.” I know to a lot of people that sounds crazy, but having a good amount of preparation and the appropriate amount of paranoia that you could fail is what will keep you striving for greatness. And in doing so, you almost forget to be scared because that doesn’t help you in your pursuit of your goals. So understanding the standard, having a high standard and provided the structure that allows you to prepare appropriately will allow you to do whatever it is, whether it’s test taking or or anything else. That has affected the way that I approach tutoring because it doesn’t matter what I’m helping with, it always starts with structure, with discipline. That’s where all of my initial conversations with my students start because any tests you’re taking will come and go. But the discipline, the structure you put into place, should go right through that test into your next goal of life, and you should be able to use that structure in that discipline to do whatever it is – a test, build the business, relationships. Understanding what is beyond that test, understanding what is beyond that standard is what will help you clear that bar with flying colors.

Q: You take a holistic approach by emphasizing reading, physical fitness and organization with the students you work with. Where did your dedication and discipline come from?

A: Swimming. The idea that your good days and bad days are out in the open, there is no excuse. Everyone in the crowd can look at that clock and see what you did. Everyone can look down at the program and see what your best is. Getting used to living my failures out in the open made me fearless. But what swimming really gave me, again back to the structure, is if you want to mess around and not do the sets at practice, if you want to mess around and not do the additional push-ups, sit-ups, weightlifting, running, whatever it is, you’re going to get crushed by the people who do. No ifs, ands or buts. Swimming taught me you need to do certain things over and over and over just to even accomplish a small incremental increase. Physical fitness on a daily basis instills discipline, but it also instills confidence. If you cannot face the mirror, you cannot face the world. And once you develop a habit of lying to yourself directly to your own face, you develop this loser attitude of expecting other people to cater to your nonsense. You need to instill positivity in students and give them the leeway to fail, but also rebound from it. And that’s what physical fitness allows. You’re not always going to be able to do more push-ups than you did the day before. You’re not always going to do the same amount you did, but get out of your bed, make your bed, hit the floor, do the push-ups, do the sit-ups. That way, when you look in that mirror, you’ve already accumulated three wins. Accumulate small wins, and that will allow you to build momentum throughout the rest of your day and then throughout life, no matter what else happens.

Accumulate small wins, and that will allow you to build momentum throughout the rest of your day and then throughout life, no matter what else happens.

Q: What is the connection between discipline and executive function, especially for people who have executive function deficiencies or areas that they need support in? How do you provide that support to develop discipline?

A: Repetition. We’re advanced enough in society to learn certain things through constant scientific research and study, all of which comes through repetition as well, but we understand that it takes a certain amount of time for the brain to develop. We understand just by a basic observation that young people do silly things, like we’ve all done. It’s constantly reinforcing, “Listen, and you’re a good person if you do good things. You’re a smart person, if you make smart choices.” Take swimming, take boxing. There are very few boxers that go through their career and don’t take a square one straight to the chin. But the ones that don’t know how to take a hit are the ones that can’t really become a champ. You have to know how to take a hit. Rebound, get your feet back underneath you, keep your brain on and focus. That repetition allows you to go, “Boom, I’ve been hit before. Here’s what you do.” Not flail and freak out. A lot of executive functioning comes back to setting that standard early on, explaining the structure. Both what it does today and how following through will help you. If that structure is constantly shown, explained and enforced, then that’s when executive functioning over the course of time, the student will see improvements and will learn to take the training wheels off because it’s constantly reinforced. Push them forward, you busted your knee, get back on that bike. That develops a fearlessness and that develops strength. Coaching isn’t a system where you’re supposed to be there their entire life. It’s a support system to show them that falling is a part of life and this is the way you get back up on your own two feet and move forward.

Q: What are some of your executive function tools or practices that you use most in your personal life?

A: You can’t hit a target you can’t see. You have to know what it is you’re setting out to do. So it starts with your goals. Underneath your goals, you have to write the tasks that needs to be completed to achieve that goal. And then once that’s laid out, you start putting it on your calendar, daily breakdown, weekly breakdown, monthly breakdown and then that’s your game plan. That’s your vision. You can’t have everything in your head because then as soon as things start to go wrong, you don’t even know what you’re supposed to be drawing from. You don’t even know what you’re trying to hit. So by having your goals, by having the task you need to do, you’re making it real. Now it’s not mommy, it’s not daddy, it’s not grandma, it’s you. Now you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I did not do what I was supposed to do,” or, “I did do what I was supposed to do.” And that will create confidence. I can create the world around me and it all starts right here. That’s what I do in my personal life. I constantly have to do list, I constantly have those tasks. I put it on a calendar. Be able to say it in the mirror. That’s really what should matter to you. I’ll give Kanye West credit for this – the same people that are supposed to give you wings, try to cut them off when you want to fly. Your parents might be the first people to tell you, “don’t try that”, because they’re projecting their own fear onto you. It’s not like I tell my kids not to listen to their parents, but it’s about being accountable to yourself. Reinforce these things to yourself. Don’t ever try to blame other people for the things you did not do. So for executive functioning in particular, it comes down to structure. It’s on paper and you can kind of fly it as you build it. And now you’re able to get in that rhythm of life and ultimately win.

I can create the world around me and it all starts right here.

Q: What do you consider the most important factor in a successful test taking experience?

The most important factor is understanding what’s beyond that test and the discipline it will require to achieve your goals, even for that test. I think it’s a mistake when students go into test prep mode and the only thing on their mind is the test because they know the test is going to be over one day. They know the test is hard. So if they get into this rut of, “Oh my god, it’s hard, whatever, it’ll be over in a few months,” a lot of students would just start to shut down. This test, once it’s gone, no one is ever going to talk about it ever again. You’re not going to talk about it with your friends. You’re not going to talk about it with your family. You’re not going to talk about it with your college counselors or your, you know, your academic advisors. Poof! It just disappears. So if the only thing you were focused on is that test, especially at a young age, it’s easy to dismiss it when it gets hard. Having a wider perspective on it makes it a lot easier to key-in on what you have to do for the test and go, “OK, this is about life.” So once they do that, easy peasy, I never really have to harp on students for their homework. The adults seem to be the ones forgetting how resilient and how smart kids are. I don’t get any push back at any grade level from this. Even when my younger students that I work with try to pull a little nonsense, I nip that in the bud right then and there. But the next day, we get back to what they know is the standard. I’m here to make sure you win and when you win, I win.

The structure that we use is meant to help you – not just for this test – but for life.

Thank you for joining this conversation with Maurice. If you connected with this Q&A, let us know your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you! Interested in working with one of our coaches? Please fill out this contact form so we can schedule a free consultation with you.

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