How to Reduce Math Test Anxiety

Class AnxietyIt’s not unusual for a child to struggle with math during their early school years. As a child’s brain develops, they start to learn how to solve logic problems and apply analytical reasoning – a development that is in part nurtured through their ability to solve mathematical problems. Their brains want to find they answer – their brains know that an answer is there – but while they’re starting to make those connections, solving math problems can provide considerable stress and anxiety.

This is especially true when taking a math test, because there is the added pressure of knowing that the test itself is gauging whether or not they have been successful at learning. That pressure can cause a lot of anxiety, and it’s not uncommon for the child taking the test to feel these effects, including:

  • Cloudy Mind – Anxiety has a tendency to reduce focus and clarity. This can be troublesome when the child is trying to figure out complex math problems, and that can lead to more anxiety. 
  • Physical Stress – Math anxiety during a test can also cause physical discomfort. Children that are attempting to sit and focus on solving a problem often find this discomfort to be overwhelming, and may prevent them from putting all of their efforts on the test. 
  • Time Perception – Scientists are mixed on whether or not anxiety alters the perception of time. But subjectively, many people report that time can feel like it’s passing too slowly or too quickly, and both can affect the student’s ability to complete the test.
  • Self-Doubt – You need confidence to solve math problems. Doubt yourself, and it becomes much harder to find the right answer, because you’ll worry that another answer is out there. Anxiety is often a fuel for self doubt.

Anxiety can also cause sweating, nervous behaviors, and ticks. All of these make it harder and harder to succeed on a math test.

What Can Be Done?

Math anxiety is a tricky thing to conquer, because unlike other forms of anxiety, you can’t necessary teach someone to completely avoid anxiety if they are struggling to solve a problem. Some level of anxiety is natural, and some people believe that overconfidence (ie, no anxiety) may cause issues as well.

Clearly the best way to reduce that anxiety is studying, because the more the student is used to solving a problem, the less intimidating the problem becomes. However, there are strategies that teachers and parents can implement to reduce math test anxiety even further, including:

  • Create a Personal Test Taking Strategy

What should the student do when they don’t know a question? Most kids go into a test with no strategy, and when they start to struggle with a problem or worry about an answer, they have no idea what to do next. Teach children a strategy for test taking, such as “if you don’t know a problem or you’re worried about your answer, immediately move on to the next question and come back to it later.” Each child can use their own strategy, but these strategies will help ensure they don’t feel lost when they start to struggle.

  • Teach a Personal Relaxation Technique

It’s much harder to get children to perform the same relaxation strategies many adults use, like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. But you can help the child find some technique that reduces their stress. As soon as they start to feel themselves getting frustrated, have them stop and perform an activity that helps them feel better, such as tapping their finger against the table or singing a song they like to themselves. These little things won’t decrease the pressure completely, but they’ll help stop it from becoming overwhelming.

  • Make Extra Credit Available

Not every student is going to be able to solve every problem, and if they simply don’t know an answer, anxiety is to be expected. What will help is reducing the pressure of the test itself. Let the students know there are extra credit assignments available should they struggle on the test, so that the test isn’t the only way they can receive a good grade. The assignments should be difficult (so that students don’t want to do them), and certainly shouldn’t make up for an entire test, but they will at least relieve some of the pressure the students feel about the test itself, and hopefully allow them to focus more on the questions.

Teaching Children to Succeed On Math Tests

One thing that many teachers, students, and parents don’t want to admit is that a lot of test taking anxiety is because the student hasn’t been able to prepare as thoroughly as possible. While many children struggle on tests, the degree that they struggle is at least mildly correlated to how well they know the answers. As a result, it’s impossible to relieve the anxiety symptoms completely, because most students will experience anxiousness when they get lost answering a question.

But you can take steps to reduce the anxiety to some degree so that the child can have an easier time focusing on the test and ultimately find the right answers. If the child is prepared, and able to at least reduce some of their stress in order to focus on the exam itself, they should be able to answer the questions easier and ultimately experience an additional decrease in anxiety naturally.

Finding the Root Causes

Math test anxiety is a common challenge faced by many students, but uncovering the underlying causes can be the first step toward overcoming this obstacle. If you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed when faced with a math test, you’re not alone. In this blog post, we’ll explore how to identify the root causes of your math test anxiety and offer strategies for managing and overcoming it.

The first step in addressing math test anxiety is self-reflection. Take some time to reflect on your own experiences and emotions surrounding math tests. Think back to when you first noticed feelings of anxiety and consider what triggers those feelings. Whether it’s the pressure to perform well, fear of failure, or past experiences of struggling with certain concepts, understanding the root causes of your anxiety is essential.

Identifying triggers is another important aspect of addressing math test anxiety. Pay attention to the specific situations or circumstances that trigger your anxiety. These triggers could be related to the testing environment, the content of the test, or external factors such as time pressure. By recognizing these triggers, you can begin to develop strategies for managing them more effectively.

Seeking feedback from teachers, parents, or peers can also provide valuable insights into your math test anxiety. They may offer observations or perspectives that you hadn’t considered and can help you identify areas where you may need additional support or resources.

It’s also essential to consider past experiences with math that may have shaped your beliefs and attitudes toward the subject. Whether it’s experiences of success or failure, feedback from teachers or parents, or comparisons with peers, these past experiences can influence how you approach math tests and contribute to feelings of anxiety.

Exploring coping mechanisms is another important aspect of managing math test anxiety. Think about the strategies you currently use to cope with anxiety and consider whether they are helpful or if they contribute to further stress. Experiment with different relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral strategies, or seeking support from others to find what works best for you.

If you’re struggling to identify the underlying causes of your math test anxiety or finding it difficult to manage on your own, don’t hesitate to seek professional support. A therapist or counselor can provide guidance and support as you work through your feelings and develop strategies for overcoming math test anxiety.

How Your Environment Influences Math Test Anxiety

Math test anxiety can stem from various factors, and one significant contributor is the environment in which you learn and take tests. Your surroundings play a crucial role in shaping your emotions, mindset, and performance during math assessments. Let’s delve into how your environment can impact math test anxiety:

The physical setting in which you take your math tests can have a profound effect on your anxiety levels. Factors such as the size of the classroom, noise level, seating arrangement, and temperature can influence your comfort and concentration. For example, a crowded or noisy environment may distract you and heighten feelings of stress, while a quiet and organized space can promote focus and confidence.

The atmosphere cultivated by your teacher and peers in the classroom can also contribute to math test anxiety. A supportive and encouraging classroom environment where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning can help alleviate anxiety. Conversely, a competitive or judgmental atmosphere may increase feelings of pressure and self-doubt, exacerbating anxiety.

The relationship between you and your math teacher can significantly impact your anxiety levels. A supportive and understanding teacher who provides clear instruction, offers assistance when needed, and fosters a positive learning environment can help reduce math test anxiety. On the other hand, a lack of rapport or perceived criticism from your teacher may intensify feelings of stress and anxiety.

The behavior and attitudes of your peers can also affect your math test anxiety. Peer pressure, comparisons, or feelings of inadequacy in relation to classmates’ perceived abilities may contribute to heightened anxiety levels. Positive peer interactions, collaboration, and support, on the other hand, can promote confidence and reduce anxiety.

Factors in your home environment, such as parental expectations, familial support, and access to resources, can influence your math test anxiety. A supportive home environment where you feel encouraged to ask for help, receive assistance with homework, and have access to educational resources can positively impact your confidence and performance. Conversely, a lack of support or high expectations from family members may contribute to feelings of pressure and anxiety.