Test Anxiety

Virginia W. Strawderman, Ph.D.

Test Anxiety (the following information is loosely based on that of John Zbornik and Ellen Freedman)

Two major components seem to comprise test anxiety.

The cognitive aspect centers on worry which may include poor self-image, feelings of failure, or catastrophic thoughts.

The emotional aspects center on somatic disturbances such as stomach upset and headaches. Symptoms of nervousness such as shaking hands, sweating palms, dry mouth, shallow breathing, heart palpitations, and elevated blood pressure may also be present.

Behavioral responses may vary from focusing on one item, "checking out," hyper sensitivity to noise or other environmental stimuli, and "freezing up."

Assessing test anxiety should include, but not be limited to, getting a history from the student and parents, teachers, etc. and using rating scales.

Test Anxiety Assessment (based somewhat on John Zbornik’s work)

  1. What kinds of things happen in your body while you are taking a test?
  2. How is your breathing?
  3. How does your stomach feel?
  4. How does your head feel?
  5. Are you able to study the night before a test?
  6. How nervous do you feel when starting at test?
  7. Does the level of nervousness change and you progress through the test? How?
  8. Does your mind ever just go blank before or during a test?
  9. Even when you have studied a lot, do you still get nervous?
  10. Do you sometimes get stuck on a question or problem and can’t go on?
  11. Do you have trouble finishing tests?
  12. Does the subject matter of the test make a difference in your feelings while you are taking the test?
  13. What kind of things do you think about when you are taking a test?
  14. What thoughts go through your mind?

After a student has answered questions that are consistent with test anxiety, the next step is to help the student try to deal with the response.

[Note: The above questionnaire, with room for responses, can be printed here.

Suggestions to help students cope with math test anxiety

Teach students how to study for math tests by making note cards, working problems from classwork, homework, tests and quizzes.

Help students construct practice exams or practice tests that are available in books or through teachers.

Use other means to help the student "desensitize" by practicing test-like conditions.

Give positive reinforcement for good work and gentle correction for mistakes.

Teach students how to work backwards and/or eliminate answers on multiple-choice tests.

Help students practice doing the questions or problems in three waves: Easy, medium, and hard so they can maximize the time allowed.

Teach students about the physiology of test anxiety and to not be distracted by body responses.

Instruct students to eat meals with both carbohydrates and protein prior to the test.

Instruct students to try to exercise just enough to become a little bit tired prior to entering the testing situation (It lessens the affect of adrenaline caused by anxiety).

Help the students learn to have productive self-talk (rather than destructive self-talk).

"My job is to do the best I can on this test today."

Help students increase their ability to focus on the task of taking the test and every time attention wanders to refocus.

About The Author

Virginia W. Strawderman, Ph.D. did her dissertation on Math Anxiety. She has developed and produced the MathHELPS series of games and activities for young children.