Test anxiety, suffering, and success

The very first class I taught, I had a student inform me that my math class had made her take up smoking and drinking again.

<grin>  I love my job.

One of the hurdles that a lot of students need to overcome is test anxiety.     I have taught some extremely tough customers who would break into a cold sweat when they entered into a math classroom.    I end up working a lot with my students to help them overcome testing fear.   I explain about the amygdala, our residual lizard brain which when it sees something stressful, like a gun or a math quiz, will react with one of four ways:   fight, flight, freeze or appease.   There is no way for your conscious mind to stop this process.     So here is what you can do:  1) take a moment to recognize that you are in a state of fear; 2) breathe, breathing accesses the parasympathetic nervous system to start to relax;  3)  recognize that you are not in danger and won’t be killed if you can’t figure out how to __________ during the next 30 seconds; and 4) give yourself a positive self statement.    I also give my students step by step instructions on how to do all of the problems that I give them.

I also let them know that it helps if they do their homework.    Frequently they don’t listen.

<sigh>

The fact of the matter is that one of the best indicators of success isn’t how intelligent the student is, although that is certainly a factor, but  how much they are willing to suffer for their classes.   I know that sounds cruel, but I have read some serious studies that talk about measures of “grit” and determination.     Minor failures can become pathways to greater success.

I will also say, that some of these very same tough-as-nails students will be extremely upset, after having finally performed well on a quiz or a test, if I forget to give them a gold star.

<grin>  I love my job.

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