Overcoming timed-test-induced math anxiety

Many students have anxiety when it comes to math. They find working with numbers stressful because of the extra care required for coming up with the correct answers during lessons. Taking a math test can cause students to lose focus, forget steps, and feel overwhelmed.

Timed tests exacerbate math anxiety.

Students feel pressure to perform quickly and accurately in timed math tests. If they fail at either, anxiety builds. The test-takers don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. They don’t want to feel as though they are failing.

Timed tests

Setting testing time limits is nothing new. College entrances exams are timed. Professional certifications in several industries require that candidates submit to a timed test as a way to prove their knowledge and expertise.

Teachers often require automaticity in reciting math facts like the multiplication table because they know their students will need speed and fluency during timed tests. As a response to timed tests, teachers assign Mad Math Minutes to encourage automaticity in calculations.

Recognizing math anxiety

It seems like no other subject indices stress like mathematics. The anxiety surrounding math isn’t even limited to the classroom. If severe enough, this clinical condition can profoundly affect children and adults. As much as 6% of the population has math anxiety.

Math anxiety can be hereditary. Parents with math phobias can unwittingly pass them on to their children. That anxiety can last a lifetime.

Adults with math anxiety may experience stress when examining bank statements or paying bills. Students experience math anxiety in the math classroom, and also outside of formal math instruction, when figuring out grades and GPAs.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Constriction of the pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Tension headaches

Students may try to avoid math class by finding reasons to visit the counselor or school nurse during class time. Prolonged trips to the restroom are also part of math avoidance. These absences, however, make the problem worse. By missing instruction, students with math anxiety get further behind, and their stress levels increase.

Time tests make the math anxiety worse.

Strategies to reduce anxiety

  • Practice in class by playing games. The focus is on playing, but gamification still requires correct answers in a timed environment.
  • Teach your students how to use growth mindset techniques. When students believe they power through math problems, they often will. Growth mindset helps them understand that the anxiety from hard work benefits them.
  • Take your students through visioning exercises in which they see and feel themselves answering test questions and being successful.

Timed tests aren’t going away.

To reduce math anxiety, help your students develop a positive attitude. Math seems overwhelming because of the multi-step processes and many formulas. Keep directions as simple as possible. One probability and statistics professors told students, “There are only four things you can do in math: add, subtract, multiply, and divide. You came to this class already knowing how to do these things. I’m here to help with the rest.”

By showing your students how to work through and perhaps overcome math anxiety, you’re changing their perception of themselves.

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