Test-Taking Anxiety

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7th grader with math test taking anxiety

May 2012

My 7th grade daughter totally freezes on math tests. She seems incapable of thinking under pressure even when she knows the material. The school has been accomodating with giving her a quiet place to work but nothing seems to work. Any advice? anon

Hi. Good for you for recognizing that your daughter needs help now and reaching out. Its sounds like you are taking the right steps. I am a private math tutor and see this often. First, find a good math tutor that your daughter is comfortable with. Her school should have some recommendations. The ultimate confidence is knowledge. Second, this may sound strange but I have seen it work, speak with her pediatrician about prescribing beta-blockers for test days. They are not a sedative. This will curb her physical reaction of anxiety but not hinder accessing knowledge. The three students I have seen this work with only needed them for a year or two and learned how to take their tests calmly and what they needed to prepare for them. Best of luck. Julia

hi, i have exactly the same--7th grade girl w/ math test taking anxiety. of course this is nothing new (for us-- and i presume for you too); she's been anxious about math for a long time. oddly, she's actually pretty good at math (when she can exorcise her demons about it--she calls them her ''green monster'' and her ''gorilla''--therapist helped name them). i scored 800 on my math sat's (100 or so years ago it seems) and her mother is an accountant, no math slouch herself, so it is no surprise she is actually good at math. problem w/ mine (and i presume w/ yours) is just lack of confidence. could be many reasons for this, but i don't think they really matter. the important thing (in my limited experience) is to PUMP HER UP. celebrate her successes, make a big deal about it when she gets something right. when she struggles, try not to set the bar too high for her; sympathize w/ the struggle, tell her you understand how difficult it is, just keep patiently working w/ her on it. tell her you think most kids have this same struggle, but that even if they don't, you know she'll get it eventually, but she needs to repeat it and repeat it a few times till it sinks in. but reassure her that it will (eventually). there is no timetable and should be no rush. she'll get it when she gets it (w/ each new subject). sometimes you can help her make out a chart of key rules (such as how to convert percents to decimals or fractions--and vice versa; or area of circle vs. circumference/diameter and those two simple formulas; or difference between adding/subtracting positive and negative numbers vs. multiplying/dividing them). tell her you struggled when you were her age too (even if that isn't exactly true for you, it is true for many, so let her know it's ok to take time to learn new math concepts). but mostly tell her that her grade doesn't really matter all that much to you (and it shouldn't; she's in 7th grade). tell her all that matters is that she relax and have fun w/ math--it can be fun, esp. when you can help her get the anxiety out. it is the process of learning that is important--her mind being open to new concepts, not afraid of them, shrinking away from them. if she can begin to look at it from that process angle, rather than the very personal ''how did you do?'' angle, the grades will (slowly) improve. this has worked some for mine; her math grades are up from C's last year to B's now, heading toward B+. but more to the point, she is getting more confident in her ability, less anxious about it. good luck. doug

College freshman struggling with test anxiety

April 2012

I have a daughter who is very bright and is a college freshman. She needs some help, though, in acquiring strategies for learning and test taking. In particular, she needs assistance in discovering how she learns best and strategies to maximize the above. She loves her college but is struggling with test anxiety and difficulty in taking college exams. Papers? Well those are not an issue. Any suggestions? I am looking for a cognitive psychologist in the East Bay Area to work with my daughter over the summer. Thanks anonymous

My daughter worked with Dr. Bernstein when she was preparing for the LSAT. She took the test (for a second time) after working with him and felt it made a big difference. http://testsuccesscoach.com/ anon

High school student with severe test anxiety

June 2004

My high school junior experiences severe test anxiety on standardized tests. She doesn't need a SAT subject tutor but does need help in test approach and handling the anxiety of the test environment. She has taken a decent prep course and used different prep books. Any recommendations for someone who could help with this? This is not about getting a few more points on a test - this is drawing-a-blank, melt-down sort of anxiety. I have looked at the previous recommendations and but most are skewed towards subject tutoring.

As a former teacher of test prep, I had students just like your daughter. Two of them benefitted greatly from hypnotherapy. I haven't tried it, but it worked very well for them. Both ended up scoring as well as they did in practice. Good Luck! anne

Test anxiety is just terrible. A few suggestions: Your child may have a learning style difference that demands more time to take tests. Unfortunately this means being tested for a ''learning disability'' and being approved by the school, which is a taxing process. You might ask your medical doctor for a prescription for a betablocker--then I would recommend taking a very, very small amount of the pill under the tongue about 1/2 hour prior to the test.Do a trial first to see if the drug causes drowiness, or doesn't feel right. Your child might benefit from this very small dosage prior to future tests, public speaking or other anxiety-producing events. No regular taking of the drug is necessary. Finally,working out a test taking strategy, not talking to anyone prior to the test and wearing earplugs might help a little.