Test anxiety freezes one’s ability to use the executive functioning skills required to do well in testing situations. We know now that strong emotional feelings like anxiety interfere with our ability to use our other executive processes to get things done. It’s how the brain works. Fortunately research gives us a couple of helpful solutions.
I recently heard these tips from Dr. Linda B. Nilson of Clemson University. She was presenting a tele-seminar with the title: “The Mind has a Mind of Its Own—Teaching and Learning That’s in Sync with the Mind.” For individuals with intense test anxiety she provided the following strategy. About 10 minutes before the test, sit down with a piece of paper and write down ALL of your worries and concerns about taking the test. Write out all of those strong emotional fears. It is a brain dump activity. Acknowledge those fears. By doing this you are clearing out your working memory so it can focus on answering questions rather than on the debilitating emotion of anxiety. The research shows that when this is done prior to taking a test, test scores raise one grade point! It makes sense to me to clear out that dominating emotion so the rest of your brain can do its job and access information in long term memory. This is a great strategy for teachers to employ prior to high-stakes testing for their students. Individuals can do this on their own give to alleviate that crushing test taking anxiety.
She also discussed the strategies of deep slow breathing, by counting to ten slowly, as well as visualizing a successful outcome from the test. These strategies worked well for some people and not so well for others.
If you, or someone you know, suffers from test taking anxieties, try Dr. Nilson’s executive functioning strategies to calm those fears and improve performance.
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success, the author of Seeing My Time, and the creator of the Sklar Process. She is an educator, reading specialist, and learning coach with more than fifteen years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.