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.


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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