October 29, 2023

What Is Test Anxiety, and How Can We Help Our Students Alleviate It?

How The Usage of Meditative Disciplines, Especially Box Breathing, Can Alter A State of Mind and Produce a Calmer Test-Taking Mindset

We’ve all experienced a little anticipatory test anxiety, right?

And because you may have experienced yourself, you can empathize with students of varying ages and intellectual capabilities still experiencing these varied elevated symptoms.

That inner frantic arises knowing the assessment can alter grades reflective of their institutionally defined “success”. It is human and natural to experience slightly elevated anxiety in anticipation of a test, especially in math! 

It requires a plethora of steps, formulas, specific rules, and reviews to ensure that the content presented is being done correctly. It can be a lot for one young mind to absorb, especially when other subjects are being taught throughout their very full school day! Wouldn’t you agree?

Despite the study guides, in-class reviews, & other forms of resources educators provide to help students feel prepared- there are just some things unable to settle a jittery set of nerves. It’s especially difficult for some children and adolescents not fully developed or have advanced emotional regulation skills.

That is okay! It just means there have to be tools provided to them much more digestible and easy to do at the moment (or before) to alleviate their test-taking anxiety. There’s a wide array of methods to achieve this outcome, but two of the most common only require the person doing it!

I’m sure many of us are familiar with meditation. It’s a practice through mindfulness focused on a particular thought or object to train awareness, thus installing a stabilized state of mind. It can be done in a few minutes, some enjoy doing it for a few hours! It depends upon the situation and intention behind creating that new awareness.

How does meditation aid in test-taking anxiety? The Mayo Clinic explains that meditation combines many different physical actions to create the desired relaxed sensation. Some of these actions can include slowed deep breathing, closed eyes, and attention to what’s occurring within the mind and body. By instructing students to scan their bodies and manually relax their involuntary movements, it can rid them of jumbled thought processes and inner stresses. 

Productive utilization of this method in an educational setting could be instructor-led class meditation. Taking a few minutes to facilitate a few minutes of meditation in a class can not only reach a higher volume of students but overall calm the test-taking environment. It would also cultivate a strong community in the class environment if an instructor were to have the whole class partake regardless of the varying anxieties students are experiencing.

Aside from the usefulness of meditation, there’s another breath-oriented action proven to reduce bodily anxiety. The technique is referred to as box-breathing; it’s also known as square breathing. Navy SEALS, nurses, even emergency personnel utilize box breathing for times of severe stress but can be used in other stress-inducing settings. 

What is it exactly? It’s prolonged deep breathing in a well-seated position, and it’s imperative to operate in a QUIET environment. This can be incorporated into meditation since that can also include guided verbal factors. Nonetheless, box breathing can also just function as its method of relaxation. 

What makes box breathing such a powerful anxiety-reducing mechanism is the controlled holds between inhales and exhales. The Mayo Clinic claims that slowed breathing has benefits beyond the moment it’s used in; yogic breathing can help balance the autonomic nervous system in charge of involuntary processes! 

Because breath is such a familiar action to us humans, we don’t always recognize its importance to our state at every conscious moment. The focus on recalibrating the depth and pace of breathing will stimulate the body to strengthen its homeostasis. Even those who have stress or breathing-related disorders can greatly ease their symptoms by constantly practicing box breathing! 

Box breathing, with or without additional meditation, can provide that space for growth for the students’ inner skills. The long-term benefits can apply to anyone who adopts this because we all have intricate nervous systems in charge of our body’s regulation. 

If you are an instructor looking to apply more mindfulness skills in the classroom, then research all the different steps and benefits of meditation strategies. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to learn a skill that you can apply to your stress management skills!

Even if you aren’t administering the assessments students feel apprehensive towards, cultivating a much calmer learning environment for the student can happen outside of school! If you notice a student, whether it be a tutoring or guardianship situation, express anxiety over math homework- do not fret! 

Before starting all that math, instruct the student through a few minutes of deep breathing. You can even create personalized affirmations about their problems with math to alter their subconscious programming. 

Having them tune back to their body can aid in replenishing their energy and increase cognitive function. Watch the tension release from their body after a few good days or even weeks of consistently revitalizing the alignment between their physical being and spirit.


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