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Overcoming stereotype threat: empowering all students to thrive

Unraveling the Invisible Obstacle

In classrooms across the world, a silent yet potent force jeopardizes the success of countless students: stereotype threat. This psychological phenomenon occurs when students are aware of negative societal perceptions linked to aspects of their identity, such as their race, gender, socio-economic background, or other identity markers. Research shows that stereotype threat can significantly impair test performance and learning attitudes, especially for students of color and girls in STEM fields (Spencer, Logel, & Davies, 2016; Smith & Hung, 2008).

Stereotype threat affronts students who are already vulnerable to obstacles to academic success, with detrimental impacts that extend beyond the classroom. In the classroom, when students are aware of a negative stereotype about a community they belong to based on their identity, their attention is split between accomplishing a task and disproving the stereotype they might be assigned (Smith & Hung, 2008).

Bridges to Readiness believes that tutoring can help students overcome stereotype threat and prove to others what is possible.

Our Approach

Given the pervasive impact of stereotype threat, it is vital for educators to incorporate practices to minimize its effects. At Bridges to Readiness, tutors implement the following approaches (based on research, including the SEARCH framework) while working with students to prepare them for high-stakes testing, not only minimizing stereotype threat but empowering students to overcome challenges.

  • Belongingness: Research suggests that students are more likely to overcome stereotype threat when they are reminded that all students experience successes & challenges, regardless of their background. This intentional reminder is a taught coping mechanism that students can utilize (Smith & Hung, 2008).

  • Constructive Feedback: Research indicates that students succeed when provided with robust feedback that identifies clear strengths and growth areas. Likewise, students respond positively when held to expectations and reminded that they can meet & exceed such expectations (Smith & Hung, 2008).

  • Growth Mindset: Students often internalize the idea that poor performance confirms inadequacy, which is exacerbated by stereotype threat. When these ideas are disrupted and students are encouraged to adopt a growth mindset with clear goals and habits, students are more likely to overcome stereotype threat (Smith & Hung, 2008; Spencer, Logel, & Davies, 2016).

  • Affirmation: Stereotype threat minimizes students’ self-image and reduces their confidence. Thus, intentional and genuine reminders that students’ goals are worthy and attainable, buttressed by an authentic relationship with instructors, does much to circumvent stereotype threat (Smith & Hung, 2008; Spencer, Logel, & Davies, 2016).

  • Removing Triggers: Standardized tests often include demographic questionnaires before the examination period begins, which can trigger stereotype threat. While this cannot always be avoided, students are more likely to overcome stereotype threat when consistently reminded that those questions are procedural and do not determine their performance (Smith & Hung, 2008).

Together, these strategies enable students to rise above stereotype threat, unlocking their limitless potential and setting them on a path to lifelong success. Reach out to Bridges to Readiness today if you're interested in learning more about our approach.


  • Smith, C. S., & Hung, L. C. (2008). Stereotype threat: Effects on education. Social Psychology of Education, 11(3), 243-257.

  • Spencer, S. J., Logel, C., & Davies, P. G. (2016). Stereotype threat. Annual Review of Psychology, 67(1), 415-437.

  • Casad, B. J., Hale, P., & Wachs, F. L. (2017). Stereotype threat among girls: Differences by gender identity and math education context. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 41(4), 513-529.

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