Solution for Overcoming Test Anxiety

April 3, 2014

What is Test Anxiety?

Most people probably are familiar with some degree of test anxiety – uneasiness or feeling unprepared prior to a test, especially an important one. The problem is more serious for a great many others who suffer from a lack of confidence, dread, fear and inability to concentrate while taking an exam. Some people even draw a blank when it comes to facts and figures they’ve studied and otherwise know. Test anxiety can affect not only academic performance, but self-esteem and overall health as well, and it is observed in all age groups. Studies show that many young people with test anxiety are at risk of one day dropping out of school.

In today’s fast-paced societies and global economy, where future success is measured in large part by how we do on the tests we take in school and in the job market, the pressure to perform starts at an early age. By the time students reach high school, doing poorly on important tests increasingly can seriously impact their future. Test anxiety is so prevalent that a number of research studies, including a federally funded one by researchers at the Institute of HeartMath in collaboration with Claremont Graduate University faculty and students, have been undertaken in recent years. The results are alarming.

A significant majority, 61%, of high school students suffer from test anxiety and 26% are handicapped by test anxiety often or most of the time.

Findings of the TestEdge® National Demonstration Study

As with all forms of anxiety, test anxiety basically is rooted in some type of fear, but the faces of this particular type of fear and its causes are many and varied: fear of failure, lack of self-confidence, fear of blanking out on tests, poor time management or study habits, lack of organization and concern over how test results will impact future plans, among others.

These negative emotions can lead test takers to feel overwhelmed. When that happens, anxiety creates a kind of “noise” or mental static in the brain that blocks our ability to retrieve what’s stored in memory, and it also greatly impairs our ability to comprehend and reason.

Briefly About the Science of Anxiety

The key to understanding how anxiety inhibits cognitive and physical performance lies in understanding how emotions affect the rhythmic activity in the nervous system, says IHM Director of Research Dr. Rollin McCraty. Feelings such as frustration, anger, and anxiety cause the neural activity in the two branches of the autonomic nervous system to get out of sync. This in turn affects the synchronized activity in the brain, disrupting our ability to think clearly. Conversely, uplifting feelings such as appreciation lead to increased harmony and synchronization in the brain and nervous system which help us think clearly.

Identifying Test Anxiety

Take a few minutes with this simple Asset/Deficit Balance Sheet to track your emotions and thoughts to see where you’re spending your energy.

  1. Do you have a hard time getting started studying for a test?
  2. When studying for a test, do you find you get easily distracted or feel like the class or materials are boring?
  3. Do you expect to do poorly on a test no matter how much you study?
  4. During tests, do you often experience physical discomfort such as sweaty palms, upset stomach, headache, difficulty breathing or tension in your muscles?
  5. Is it often difficult for you to understand test directions and questions?
  6. Do you frequently have mental blocks during tests on material you’re sure you’ve studied and learned?
  7. After taking tests, do you often discover you completely overlooked one or more test questions?

The TestEdge® National Demonstration Study

The primary purpose of this study was to investigate how effective the TestEdge program would be in reducing stress and anxiety and improving emotional well-being, quality of relationships, and academic performance in students. This involved determining the magnitude, correlates, and consequences of stress and test anxiety among public school students. A second programmatic purpose was to characterize the implementation of the program in relation to its receptivity, coordination, and administration in a wide variety of school systems with diverse cultural, administrative and situational characteristics.

Researchers focused on 980 10th-graders for the primary study, using pre- and post-TestEdge program measures. They analyzed questionnaires, interviews, observations, student drawings and test scores from the California High School Exit Examination and the California Standards Test. They also used heart-rate-variability measures to determine whether students had learned the TestEdge program techniques of shifting into a state of coherence between the heart and brain prior to taking a stressful test. The secondary study involved qualitative investigations of the TestEdge program implemented in schools in California, Delaware, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Key findings of the primary study:

  • Of those students who suffered test anxiety and received the TestEdge training, 75% had reduced anxiety by the end of the program.
  • Students in more than three-quarters (76.2%) of the 21 classes in which the TestEdge program was implemented demonstrated a significant reduction in test anxiety – across the full range of academic ability, lowest-performing to highest-performing classes.
  • Reduced test anxiety is associated with increased positive emotions and feelings and usually is associated with a reduction in negative feelings, emotional discord and difficulty in relationships.
  • Test anxiety is a significant impediment to the accurate assessment of students’ true academic ability, the consequences of which can profoundly impact their future opportunities and life choices.
  • Twice as many girls as boys experienced high levels of test anxiety.
  • There was a strong association between test anxiety and academic performance:the greater the level of test anxiety, the lower the test scores. On average, students with high levels of test anxiety scored 15 points lower in both math and English than those with low test anxiety.
  • There was an important relationship between students’ social and emotional well-being at school and optimism about their futures and academic performance.

A HeartMath TIP:

Go to Neutral: The next time you feel anxiousness or dread before a test, or if you’re “totally stressed out” about it, do this simple exercise adapted from the HeartMath Go to Neutral Tool. (See our Recommendations).

  • Timeout: Take a timeout to disengage from your stressful thoughts and feelings. Actually say to yourself, “timeout,” then step back.
  • Heart-Focus: Shift your focus to the area around your heart in the center of your chest and feel your breath coming in through your heart and going out through your solar plexus, right below your heart.
  • Heart Breathing: Breathe slowly and gently, in and out – four or five seconds in, four or five seconds out. Remain in this neutral zone until your emotions ease and your perceptions relax.

Benefits of Using TestEdge

  • Reduces anxiety before, during and after tests.
  • Raises test scores and overall academic attitude and performance.
  • Shift into “the zone” quickly and routinely for academic work, athletics and more.
  • Ramp up and revitalize energy for school and love of learning.
  • Communication with teachers, parents and others is easier and more effective.
  • Improve relationships at school and home.

The Power of TestEdge

“The students made gains that were significant because they represented one to two years’ growth in reading or math with only one month of preparation and instruction. This clearly shows that in teaching students how to use the HeartMath tools, they were able to reduce their test-taking anxiety and more accurately show us what they know.”

—Stephanie J. Thurik, Secondary Reading Curriculum Specialist, Minneapolis Public Schools, on TestEdge Study Results

Tools For Overcoming Test Anxiety

Qualified Instructor Program®—Train the trainer!

Developing effective ways to help teachers and schools provide our nation’s children with the best possible educational experience is of paramount concern at the Institute of HeartMath today. We’ve spent many years researching the physiology of learning and developing programs to help children attain their maximum level of performance – in the classroom, socially and at home.

TestEdge®—Bridging emotions and academics for student success!

The TestEdge® classroom programs were designed to give teachers the tools they need to turn their classrooms into dynamic and productive learning centers. The Resilient Educator® program is helping teachers and other educators increase resiliency and mental clarity and renew their motivation in these stressful times in our nation’s schools and classrooms. The Qualified Instructor Program® is training professional trainers, teachers, administrators, counselors and others to teach HeartMath skills. And TestEdge Interactive Learning Program CD’s are suitable for home or classroom use, so the student can get the benefits of TestEdge in the privacy of his or her study area at home.

  • TestEdge Grades 3-5 (Classroom)
    Understand how emotions and attitudes affect children’s work. Improve test scores, learning readiness, attitudes and behavior problems. The teacher’s kit includes a teacher’s manual, fully scripted lesson plans, one student workbook and activity book and more. Teachers will find that this program integrates easily into their regular curriculums.
    For complete details, go to TestEdge 3-5.
  • TestEdge Grades 6-8 (Classroom)
    Helps students overcome test anxiety and learning blocks. Focuses on Stress Smarts and Test Smarts, which enhance students’ ability in Fact Smarts. Teacher’s Kit includes teacher’s manual, one student activity book containing interactive exercises, graphics, cartoons and factoids, Perception Experiences video, overheads, worksheets, CD-ROM and more. Integrates easily into regular curriculums.
    For complete details, go to TestEdge 6-8.
  • TestEdge Grades 9-12 (Classroom)
    Helps students experience less dread about taking tests and increase focus and comprehension skills for high-stakes tests and is designed for flexible teaching schedules. Teacher’s kit includes teacher’s manual, one student activity book containing interactive exercises, graphics, cartoons and factoids, Perception Experiences video and more.
    For complete details, go to TestEdge 9-12.
  • The Resilient Educator®

    The Resilient Educator, a highly relevant training program in today’s educational climate, was specifically developed to help educators increase resiliency, energy levels and mental clarity and enjoy a wide range of health benefits. Acclaimed by educators for its new ideas and solid foundation in neuroscience, the program’s proven techniques will help rekindle educators’ energy and why they chose their profession. The quality of teaching is the most important school-related factor associated with student achievement, according to former University of Tennessee professor and educational expert William Sanders and other researchers, and good teachers can improve student achievement by as much as an extra grade level over the course of a year.
  • Qualified Instructor Program®

    The Qualified Instructor Program (QIP) is a train-the-trainer program designed for professional trainers, educators and consultants to provide HeartMath skills to teachers, administrators, counselors and other school staff. You’ll be licensed to provide Institute of HeartMath workshops within educational settings in a cost-effective way.

  • TestEdge Interactive Learning Program CD, Grades 6-8
    Use the software version of TestEdge on your computer at home in your bedroom or other study area. Teachers: This CD program is also perfectly suitable for use in the classroom or during study period. For complete details, go to TestEdge 6-8 CD Program.
    » Buy Now
  • TestEdge Interactive Learning Program CD, Grades 9-12+

    The TestEdge CD program offers the dimension of total personal management of your program while kicking back in your own surroundings. Whether you’re in high school, college, a continuation program or adult education, TestEdge can help you do better. Teachers: Try having students use this software program at school, perhaps in study hall. It can do wonders. For complete details, go to TestEdge 9-12+ CD Program.
    » Buy Now

Proven Technology for Students

emWave®: Regular use of this scientifically validated, stress-relief technology has proven to be a vital tool in reducing anxiety, stress, anger, emotional chaos and boosting energy and vitality. The emWave technology is easy to use and noninvasive. It will help you achieve heart coherence – synchronization between the heart and brain – and reach your optimal physical, mental and emotional balance. When your emotions are in balance, you stop the energy drain and start the energy gain. Then, by practicing the easy-to-learn techniques you’ll receive with your emWave only minutes a day will help you revitalize and re-energize your mind, body and spirit anytime, anywhere.
» Learn More

“I used (the emWave) to calm myself down before my exams and felt the feeling of appreciation surge through me. … The results were staggering. This is a tool I can use for the rest of my career, and not only with test-taking, but general stressful situations as well.”

— Shannon Kimmitt, University of British Columbia, Okanagan

emWave® Pro: emWave Pro turns your computer into a self-contained heart-rhythm-coherence monitor and manager. It lets you see how thoughts and emotions affect your heart rhythms – negative ones pulling you down and draining your energy, positive ones lifting you up and allowing your body to perform its normal function of replenishing your energy. Discover how easily you can reduce your stress level and replace those negative emotions with positive ones that, with a little practice, can give you instant energy boosts and gradually help build a more invigorated you. Relying on decades of scientific research, the emWave Pro, in tandem with key HeartMath techniques that you’ll receive and easily learn, will help you increase your energy and start living life more fully.
» Learn More


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