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One of the most common forms of math anxiety is math test anxiety.

Math test anxiety most often appears initially as a "mental block" on a particular problem--often one that the student "knew" how to do moments before the test. Worry over the original problem can lead to more generalized worry and negative self talk, which can sabotage the student's overall test performance.

The main cause of mental blocks is inadequate test preparation. In order to avoid mental blocks, it is necessary to prepare thoroughly for a test.  There is no such thing as being overprepared or studying too much!  The trick is to study effectively, which does NOT mean that you study for hours at a time or only study the night before the test.

There are also strategies for taking a math test that will help you be more successful.

How to Prepare for a Math Test
  • Begin preparing for a test at least one week ahead of time.
  • Make a detailed list of all topics which might be on the test. List each kind of homework problem as a separate topic.
  • Thoroughly study each topic.
  • Make definition cards for all vocabulary words (word on one side and definition on the other).
  • Note key words in the problems (e.g., solve, simplify, rationalize). Use these words to organize your thinking about the different kinds of problems you are likely to see on the test.
  • Work many problems for the topic. Make sure to do difficult problems as well as easy ones.
  • Seek help on any problems you cannot do.
  • Do not go on to a new topic until you have mastered the current one.
  • After studying each topic separately, prepare and take a practice test containing problems from all the topics which might appear on the test. (You may wish to use a real test from a previous semester if one is available.)
  • Review any problem you miss on the practice test and analyze why you missed it. Do more problems of that type.
  • Get a good night's sleep the night before the test; eat a light but nutritious meal a couple of hours before the test.
  • Arrive at the test site on time, calm and secure in the knowledge that you have prepared well for the test.
  • Studying a little bit each day is much better than cramming the night before.
  • If you ae studying for an extended period of time, take breaks at least every hour or so to give you time to absorb the material.  This is a crucial part of learning. 
How to Take a Math Test
  • Prepare thoroughly for the test. (See How to Prepare for a Math Test.)
  • Get a good night's sleep the night before the test; eat a light but nutritious meal a couple of hours before the test.
  • You can lightly review the morning before the test, but no hardcore studying.  If you get yourself confused you will have no chance to fix it and that confusion may spill over into areas that you do know.
  • Show up to the test site about 15 minutes early bringing a writing utensil and extra paper.  Once there find a place to sit and begin journaling.  Write down everything that comes to your mind.  Whether it is a formula or jsut how nervous you are feeling.  Write continuously for 15 minutes.  Studies have shown that this techniques relieves anxiety and students tend to perform better on the exam after doing this.  The key part is to not stop writing the entire time.
  • Arrive at the test site  calm and secure in the knowledge that you have prepared well for the test.
  • When you get your test, write all formulas you may need at the top of the first page. This is your "cheat sheet."
  • Read the test through completely before you begin doing problems.
  • Read each problem and mark them as "easy" or "hard" then go through and work all the "easy" problems first, then go back and work through the more difficult ones.  Some students like to have  easy, medium and hard breakdown but you don't want to spend too much time sorting problems and then feel a time crunch.  This does a couple of things that you will find helpful.  First is that you will maximize the number of problems you can work through.  Imagine if  you got stuck on a difficult problem in the beginning spending 10 minutes on it and at the end of the exam there were three or four easy questions you could have answered but don't have the time!  Second it also gets you thinking about math and builds confidence, so when you get to the more difficult problems you are much more relaxed and thinking more clearly.
  • If you get stuck on a problem, move on and come back to that problem later.
  • Remain positively focused. Remind yourself frequently of your good preparation and understanding of the material.
  • Breathe deeply and make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed at all times during the test.
  • Don't rush. Plan to use the full time allotted to work problems and recheck them.  If you have extra time then go back and double check your work.  Do NOT change answers just because you "think" they are wrong.  If you can pinpoint a specific mistake then change it, otherwise leave it alone.  Many times the anxiety convinces us we are wrong and we alter correct answers based on gut feelings. 
  • Before you turn in your test, check to make sure you have answered all questions and have put your name on the test.
  • Leave the classroom and congratulate yourself on a good job well done in preparing for and taking the test!


Overcoming Anxiety


  • Acknowledge your feelings.  Admit that you are anxious.
  • Stop yourself from thinking irrelevant thoughts or putting yourself down.
  • Rework your negative statements into neutral statements and think in positive terms. For example, instead of saying “I can’t do this” have them say “This is difficult, but with enough practice I can get this right”.  While trying to turn a negative statement into something else it is important that the statement be honest.
  • Learn that even failure has a bright side:  you can learn from your mistakes.   It is OK to fail, just make sure you get something out of it!
  • Don’t worry about what others may be doing or thinking. Your sole concern should be for YOUR understanding of the material.  This also means that you MUST ask questions in class and clear things up before you get far behind.  This strategy also helps lessen anxiety since you don't have a ton of stuff to worry about at once.
  • Set realistic goals that you can accomplish one step at a time.
  • Practice the situation that makes you anxious.  Set up a “dress rehearsal” as closely to the real life situation as you can.  Practice the situation over and over in your mind picturing how you will succeed.  For example, take your practice tests in an empty classroom.
  • Picture a time when you felt confident about an accomplishment.  Focus on all the details of how you felt.  Now picture the situation that causes you anxiety. Replay the picture with you feeling confident and succeeding.
  • And finally, focus your attention away from yourself and toward the task.




  1. ___ I’ve reviewed and worked out lots of problems so I know my material out of context.
  2. ___ I know the format and content of my upcoming math test.
  3. ___ I know how many questions will be on my exam and its duration.
  4. ___ I’ve given myself several practice exams.
  5. ___ On practice exams, I’ve noted areas of difficulty so I can strengthen them.
  6. ___ I’ve analyzed my past pattern of typical errors so I can be alert to them on my exam.
  7. ___ I’ve gotten seven to eight hours of sleep in the days prior to the exam.
  8. ___ I’ve kept a regular program of moderate exercise.
  9. ___ I’ve eaten a small meal of low-fat protein one to two hours before the exam and avoided too much         caffeine.  Individuals may vary.
  10. ___ I’ll arrive at the exam early  and perform the journaling exercise and avoid talking with others.
  11. ___ Throughout the exam I’ll remain calm, relaxed and positive.
  12. ___ I will say positive, realistic self-statements to myself and push away all disturbing or distracting thoughts.
  13. ___ I will write out all my formulae and key ideas on the top corner of my exam sheet before beginning the test.
  14. ___ I’ll quickly read through the exam, note point values, and schedule my time accordingly.
  15. ­­­___ I’ll proceed comfortably throughout the exam, working first on the problems that come most easily to me.
  16. ___ I’ll carefully read the directions to all problems and circle significant words to avoid misinterpretation.
  17. ___ After finishing the exam, I’ll check my answers, proofread for omissions and check for my typical errors.
  18. ___ I’ll leave and reward myself for a job well done!

Adopted from “Conquering Math Anxiety” by Cynthia Arem

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