Optimum Performance


Optimum performance is the best that can be, within certain or current circumstances.  This relates to times when 'everything comes together' to create a situation in which an individual performs at their best.  Inherent in optimum performance is an understanding that the constraints of reality can influence results.  Peak outcomes or the best (i.e. optimum) results are achieved within these circumstances.  The term, 'optimum performance' is frequently used in sport; however it applies just as well to education, where performing at one's best during each assessment has a significant impact upon final academic results.  There are a number of factors to consider as physical, psychological and emotional states, mental attitudes, preparation, cognitive control and task-associated skills can each have an impact upon shaping circumstances to achieve optimum performance. ​

Physical arousal is related to the extent to which a student can manage stress and regulate emotions.  Too much anxiety overwhelms a student, physiologically, psychologically and cognitively; whereas under-arousal means that a student is disinterested, insufficiently focused and susceptible to distraction. Developing and maintaining an optimal level of arousal requires a student to find the balance between being aware of the stakes, stimulated, motivated to achieve and slightly nervous, while being able to calm and relax oneself (using physical, breathing relaxation or mindfulness exercises) if anxiety begins to rise to a discomforting level. Building self-belief, by thinking about previous successes, can also help to reduce anxiety.

Being able to focus attention is critical for cognitive control.  Self-awareness and concentration, skills that enable students to direct their thoughts, can be very useful in attaining optimal performance, especially when feeling under pressure during assessment. Athletes and public performers have learnt the value of visualization, especially in relation to goal setting and determining the interim steps that are required to achieve specific goals.  Running through the steps in one's head; visualizing how tasks might be dealt with during assessment, are ways in which students can prepare to meet challenges. 

Undertaking adequate preparation for assessments helps to build knowledge of the subject as well as develop self-confidence.  A range of study skills can be useful for learning material, checking knowledge and preparing responses. Practising skills to the point of automaticity prior to assessment lessens the load on working memory and frees up the brain to direct energy to higher order or more complex thought processes. A good night's sleep, regular nutritious meals, exercise and short breaks within study blocks all help to improve the circumstances within which students can achieve optimum performance. 

© Michele Juratowitch -

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Last reviewed 03 August 2022
Last updated 03 August 2022