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The Simple Way to Ease Test Anxiety and Lift Performance

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The Proven Way to Ease Test Anxiety and Lift Performance

Anxiety has a way of showing up at the worst times. When it’s brought to life by a test or an exam, it can get in the way of performance regardless of how well the test material is understood.  Maths tests in particular can spark enormous anxiety, but a new study has found a way settle it down, improve performance and create lasting change by altering the brain’s fear circuits.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety?

If you’ve struggled with any sort of anxiety, you’ll be familiar with the signs. The symptoms can be physical (nausea, clamminess, short shallow breathing, racy heart) or psychological (memory loss, freezing, decreased confidence, avoidance, feeling isolated – like you’re the only one who feels this way).

How does anxiety interfere with performance?

Research has found that anxiety interferes with working memory, particularly when the task involves some sort of computation, such as maths. Reduced working memory means that there is less capacity to access existing knowledge and apply it to the problem at hand. This leads to longer reaction times and more errors, all of which compromise performance. 

And this is how to beat it …

It’s long been accepted that phobias and fears can be eased with safe exposure to whatever it is that’s causing the fear. Drawing on this, researchers explored whether exposure to maths would ease maths anxiety and improve test performance.

The study, published in the The Journal of Neuroscience, was conducted on 46 third grade children. At the beginning of the study, the children were assessed on their levels of anxiety and placed into either a high anxiety group or a low anxiety, depending on their scores.

Brain imaging showed that when children in the high anxiety group performed simple addition problems, the fear circuits in the brain and the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible that triggers an anxiety response) lit up.

Each child’s then participated in an 8 week one-to-one tutoring program,  consisting of 22 lessons of addition and subtraction. 

Following their 8 weeks of individual tutoring, all children performed better on the maths problems. By exposing children to more maths problems, their anxiety was reduced and their performance improved.

Those who started out the study with high anxiety showed a significant reduction in anxiety. Brain imaging showed that the activity in the fear circuits and amygdala were significantly reduced in those children. Those in the low anxiety group showed no change, which is not surprising given that they were already low on anxiety scores. 

Why is these findings so exciting?

The promise of this study is that tutoring can work on a physiological level to actually relieve anxiety long term. Teaching children the skills to manage anxiety is important, but if anxiety can be turned around on a physiological level, the way forward is easier and the effects will be more long lasting. 

Other ways to help alleviate maths anxiety:
  1. ‘Brains can grow stronger.’ Let that be the mantra. People who are good at maths aren’t generally born that way. They make their brain stronger and better at maths through hard work, effort and practice. Children and teens who believe brains can grow will likely work harder to reach their goals and will openly and willingly approach challenge. Children who don’t believe brains can change are less likely to persevere in the face of challenge or ask for support when it’s needed. Learning maths is like learning another language – with the right amount of time and effort, anyone can do it.
  2. Read through the test first before answering anything. This seems to have an effect on test anxiety, as the unpredictability of what’s to come is taken away. Precious mental resources can then applied to the task at hand, rather than consumed by worrying about what lies ahead.

Anxiety can be intrusive and persistent, and when it comes to maths it can be enduring, discouraging children who can be good at maths from pursuing careers that draw on it heavily. The good news is that anxiety can be dealt with – science is telling us that – and the wisdom and creativity that would otherwise be smothered by anxiety, can flourish.

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.

There is absolutely nothing that feels okay about moving our children towards something that fuels their anxiety and distress. The drive to scoop them up and lift them over that ‘something’ can feel monumental, because as parents we are wired to protect our children from distress. This is related to attachment, and it’s is one of the strongest instincts known to us humans. .
♥️
But sometimes we will need to be brave enough for them, and remove avoidance as an option. This might feel awful but it’s important. The brain learns from experience so the more they avoid the more they will be driven to avoid, but the more they are brave the more they will be brave. It’s okay if this happens in little steps, as long as the steps are forward. .
♥️
When we take avoidance off the table, things might get worse before they get better. When something that has always worked stops working, we’ll do that thing more before we try something different. We all do this. If avoidance has worked as a way to bring calm, the amygdala (the part of the brain in charge of anxiety) will be rock solid in the belief that this is the only way to feel safe. .
♥️
When we stop supporting avoidance, the amygdala will often recruit other emotions (anger, distress) to make us (the recruited support) bring back avoidance as an option. This is not bad behaviour or manipulative behaviour. It is absolutely 100% NOT that. It’s the brain making way for the only way it knows to feels safe and calm - avoidance. .
♥️
There is no doubt you love your kiddos and would do anything to support them. But anxiety has a way of messing with this. When anxiety drives avoidance, it can feel as though we’re supporting our kids but we’re actually supporting anxiety. .
♥️
When we lift them over the things that make them anxious, but which are safe (and often life-giving), we are inadvertently aligning ourselves with anxiety and its message that they aren’t brave enough, or that the only way to be safe is to avoid the things that make them anxious. But we know this isn’t true. We know they are capable of greatness, and that greatness is often made of tiny brave steps.♥️
.
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