It’s as if some of the A students and B students trade places when it’s test time

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

In the ninth grade, all Taiwanese children take the Basic Competency Test (BCT), Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, which determines if they’ll get to attend senior high school:

The questions are much harder than American SAT questions, perhaps more equivalent to what Americans might see during a college final exam. And the testing takes two days. Only 39% of all Taiwanese ninth-graders manage to pass. It’s enormously competitive and stressful.


In regular classroom work, on a daily basis, the Worriers have the advantage. Thanks to high dopamine levels, they have better memories and attention and a higher verbal IQ. They’re superior planners and can better orchestrate complex thought. But as the BCT nears, the pressure intensifies, and the hours spent studying grow.


The Worriers become distressed and frustrated: they become unable to switch strategies or see something in a new way. They have trouble integrating new information. They are prone to panic when given new directions, preferring to stick to familiar ways of solving problems.


The Worriers score about 8% lower than the Warriors. The Worriers struggle the most on the academic subjects that tax working memory the hardest: science, social science, and math.

It’s as if some of the A students and B students trade places when it’s test time.


  1. Obaid says:

    Because of their elevated dopamine levels, they have superior memory and attention spans, as well as a higher linguistic intelligence. They are greater planners and are capable of orchestrating complicated thinking more effectively. However, as the BCT approaches, the pressure increases and the hours spent studying increase.

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