Many students do indeed experience serious math anxiety. For these students, an upcoming exam is an especially tense time—and they may be seeking ways to prepare themselves for the content of the exam, as well as those stressful feelings that they face before, during, and after the test.
Below, we’ve shared several steps that students can take to reduce their math anxiety and increase their confidence come test time. The tips, which we’ve adapted from Cynthia A. Arem’s Conquering Math Anxiety, Third Edition, are practical and straightforward—and thus ideal for just about any student who’s in need of some extra support and encouragement.
1. Study to Sharpen Your Knowledge and Skills
- Review previously assigned problems, and work out new, but similar problems as a means of additional practice and review.
- Be sure you know the specific concepts, skills, and principles on which you’ll be tested; do your best to find out the format of the exam as well.
- Ascertain how many questions will be on the test, as well as how much time you’ll have to complete them. (This information may be on the syllabus or mentioned in class; if not, ask your instructor.)
- Take several practice exams to build your confidence and check your timing.
- As you go over your practice exams, note the areas in which you’ve experienced difficulty or confusion and work on those particular skills.
- Recall the specific areas in which you’ve struggled in previous exams or assignments, and strengthen your skills in those areas as well.
2. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically
- Be sure to get plenty of sleep (seven to eight hours) the nights before your test.
- Get your exercise: take a walk or jog, swim, go to the gym… anything that gets you moving without increasing your likelihood of injury or overexertion.
- Practice relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing) and concentrate on affirming thoughts that build your confidence and help you maintain a positive mindset. (Take a half hour directly before the exam to engage in these activities as well.)
- Eat healthy meals; before the exam, eat a small but protein-rich dish. Avoid an excess of caffeine as well.
- Ensure that you’re at class on time; stay focused and quiet until the test begins.
3. Stay Positive and Relaxed During the Exam
- “Coach” yourself by reminding yourself of your objectives for the test (“My goal is to successfully complete this exam within the allotted time. I’ll start with the problems I can solve rather easily, then return to the more difficult problems once those are completed. I will remain calm as I do all these things.”)
- Keep calm and maintain relaxed, deep breathing.
- Stay focused: keep your mind on the exam questions. Don’t get distracted by stray thoughts, and counter negative thoughts with positive ones (“I am well prepared and I can remember the formulas I’ve studied”).
- Before you start, write down important formulas or principles at the top of the exam sheet.
- Scan the exam to get an overview of the number and types of questions asked, as well as their assigned point values. Plan your time so that you can address each section of the test accordingly.
- Return to the beginning of the exam and read all instructions carefully. Ensure that the directions are clear to you. Circle or underline key words and phrases within each question (much as you would if you were reading a textbook or a recipe).
- Work through the easier problems first; then, return to the ones that pose more of a challenge.
4. Review Your Work… and Reward Yourself!
- Once you’ve finished answering the questions, check your work and proofread your answers; keep an eye out for your “typical” errors (e.g., missing signs or notations; inadvertently skipping steps in a solution; etc.).
- Leave the exam room and celebrate your successes!
- Consider your performance, and set a concrete goal for even greater success on your next exam. (168-169)
Reference: Arem, Cynthia A. 2010. Conquering Math Anxiety, 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
How do you recommend students overcome math anxiety, especially at exam time? Share them in the comments below.
Know of students who could benefit from additional strategies for reducing math anxiety and math avoidance? Cynthia A. Arem’s Conquering Math Anxiety, Third Edition is available from cengagebrain.com.