Have You Considered How Habits of Mind Might Relieve Test Anxiety


By Terri Hamilton Director Pedagogics Coaching Group

A girlfriend and I were talking about her students. It was testing time, and she was dealing with the usual high anxiety, stress-induced stretch of months in the year. She was expressing the familiar frustration of watching her students miss questions on the state test that not only do they know, but she has ongoing evidence that supports them having learned it. I shared with her a personal experience I had in college.

I was in Anatomy and Physiology, one of my most favorite classes, and I had just received a test back that I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. As I packed my belongings and headed toward the door, my teacher stopped me. She said; “ I know that you know this material. You did your work correctly, and you asked the right questions during lecture. Questions that only a deep understanding of this material would inspire. Why did you miss so many basic questions?” I didn’t have an answer. I knew that I understood the material. I knew the time and effort I put into learning each piece of information. She asked how I felt when I was taking tests. That was easy, ANXIOUS! I, like my friend’s students, dealt with test anxiety which got in the way of my success when taking tests.

She asked me what I did to overcome that anxiety, and I said; “practice.” However, that wouldn’t have been possible, had my professor not taken the time to question me in a manner which helped me to feel comfortable sharing. She listened to me, not to hear an excuse, but to gain understanding. A small, yet powerful,  gesture.

Without knowing it, she was using the Habit of Mind Listening with Understanding and Empathy, characterized by devoting energy towards another person’s thoughts and ideas; and making an effort to gain insight into their viewpoint. I suggested to my friend that she might consider starting there with her students this year. Not only would it give her insight into how her students feel about test-taking but function as a type of formative assessment. With more understanding, she could work with their students to solve any barrier to success. Think about it, with more understanding, what could you do?