Test Anxiety

Anxiety and nervousness can be obstacles to doing well on math tests. While a certain degree of tension can be expected on any test and can help you to focus, too much can inhibit your ability to think clearly.

Test anxiety is something that you can learn to control through your own effort. Follow the guidelines below (adopted from Winning At Math by Paul Nolting) to help.

Remember that you can reduce your test anxiety over time with effort and patience. 

  1. Relax during the test

    If you find yourself overly tense, frustrated or thinking negatively during a test: 

    • Stop writing, put down your pencil, close your eyes.
    • Breath slowly and deeply a few times.
    • Replace all negative self-talk with positive thoughts. ("I will be successful," "I can do these problems correctly," etc.) 
    • Try "tense-and-release" technique: 
      • Put your feet flat on the floor.
      • Grab the sides of your chair with your hands.
      • For about 5 seconds, push down with your feet and pull up with your hands at the same time.
      • Release the tension and relax for 5-10 seconds.
      • Roll your shoulders and neck for a few seconds.
      • Repeat these steps 2 or 3 times. 
    • Try "palming technique:" 
      • Rub your hands together quickly for 2 seconds.
      • With your eye closed, place the palms of your hands over your eyes.
      • Hold your hands in this position and think of a relaxing visualization or positive thought for at least 30 seconds. 
  2. Practice long-term relaxation techniques

    You can practice control over test-anxiety before taking the test. 

    • Positive Self-Talk
      • Stop negative self-talk 
        • Negative statements you tell yourself about math or test-taking.
        • Examples of negative self-talk 
          • "I have never been good at math."
          • "No matter what I do, I won't do well in this math class."
          • "I don't care about this stupid class."
          • "I can't pass this test. This material is too hard."
          • "I'm too dumb at math to do well." 
        • Negative self-talk leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think won't succeed at math, then you probably won't. 
        • We are often not aware of our negative self-talk. 
          • Learn to listen for your own self-talk.
          • Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. 
      • Start positive self-talk 
        • Positive self-talk consists of realistic statements about being successful in math and on math tests.
        • Examples of positive self-talk: 
          • "I will succeed at math this semester, despite my lack of success in the past."
          • "I will develop good study skills to help with my success in my math course."
          • "I can learn to reduce my test anxiety."
          • "With enough effort, I can pass my math course."
          • "I have prepared well for my math test and will do my best."
          • "I am solving my problems and feel good about myself. I am not going to worry about difficult problems. I will focus on the problems that I can do." 
        • Positive self-talk will remove obstacles to your success and increase your self-confidence. 
        • A positive attitude will lead to your achievement of positive results. 
        • Develop your own positive affirmations and repeat them to yourself daily. 
        • If you hear any negative self-talk, replace it with your positive affirmations. 
    • Visualization
      • A way to create a positive test enviroment is through the development of your own visualization. 
        • Sit on a comfortable chair in a quiet, private environment.
        • Breath deeply and slowly for a few minutes.
          • With each inhalation, breath in peacefulness, relaxation, happiness.
          • With each exhalation, release any tension, anxiety, fear.
        • Imagine yourself in an ideal peaceful, relaxing place (ie at the beach, on a mountain, in a garden, etc.).
        • Get in touch with the peace and tranquility of this place. Feel the peace, joy and comfort of this place.
        • Stay in this peaceful, relaxed state for a few minutes. If a negative thought or feeling arises, acknowledge this thought or feeling and let it float away, as it doens't belong in this environment you have created.
        • After a while, imagine yourself getting ready to go take your math test.

          All the while you maintain the peace and tranquility of your ideal place. If any negativity should come by, let it go and maintain the peacefulness you have created.

          • You slowly get up (in your mind).
          • You slowly and peacefully gather your belongings as you get ready to go to Mission College.
          • You slowly and peacefully go to Misison College (car, bus, walk, bicycle). Imagine this trip in as much detail as you can, all the while maintaining the peaceful state you were in in your special place.
        • You arrive in the math classroom, keeping the peaceful state.
        • The instructor is passing out the test.
        • You begin taking the test....again maintaining the state of tranquility. If any anxiety or fears arise, let them go and return to the peaceful state of your special place.
        • You complete the test and leave the classroom. 
      • If you have spiritual traditions on which to draw, you can incorporate them into your visualization process. 
      • Practice this visualization daily until you can master it. 
      • Practice this visualization an hour before your math test.