Math Education Concepts

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Tips for Overcoming Math Test Anxiety

Math test anxiety can be described as overwhelming, anxious feelings when preparing for and taking math tests.  Students who are affected by math test anxiety “freeze up” the moment they sit down to take a math test, even though they know and understand the material very well.  Many of my students come to me with concerns about taking math tests (a necessary part of the college education process).  I usually ask a few questions about why they feel anxious, their study habits, their eating habits, and their feelings about math in general.  This helps me to understand why they feel anxious about taking math tests.  Sometimes I get some understanding of the root of the anxiety, but most of the time, it’s just math test anxiety.  I give my students the usual spiel and send them on their way.  Most of the students who take my advice come back later and thank me.

Below I listed some of the tips I share with my students.  They are very basic, but helpful.  I hope you, your child, or student can benefit from these tips.  Please feel free to share other tips, as I’m sure I missed some!!!

1.      Acknowledge you are affected by math test anxiety

The first step in getting help in any area of life is admitting you need help.  You are probably affected by math test anxiety if you get excellent grades on homework assignments, understand the teacher, take great notes, study effectively for class, but still perform poorly on math tests.  Some symptoms may include sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, uncontrollable shaking, etc.  GET HELP!!  Read about test anxiety, in general, and apply the tips to your math test anxiety.

2.      Write about your math test anxiety

I read this great article about writing down your concerns just before taking a test.  I took this information and expanded it a little further.  I advise my students to write about their math test anxiety the moment they come to me with their concerns.  I usually ask them how long they’ve noticed the anxiety and what they do to ease the anxiety.  Then I suggest they write about their feelings about math tests just to get it out in the open so they can move forward.  My students usually express relief after completing this exercise.

3.      Share your feelings with your teacher or professor, they may be able to help ease your concerns

It’s important to share these concerns with your teacher.  Most teachers are aware of test anxiety and have tips for their students to prepare for tests mentally, so they are not overwhelmed with anxiety.  Even if your teacher is not helpful, you should feel some relief by merely discussing your concerns.

4.      Become familiar and comfortable with the test site (classroom, lecture hall, etc.)

Most students study in their living room, bedroom, dining room, or some other place of comfort.  This makes it easier to relax and learn.  However, when test time comes, students are out of their comfort zone and have difficulty relaxing.  This allows test anxiety to set in.  It is best to study in the room where the test will be administered.  This room should become your comfort zone.  You should read your notes, complete assignments, and study for tests in the same room (or a very similar room) where the test will take place.  You will be comfortable with your surroundings and you will be able to relax during the test.

5.      Relax before taking a math test

Avoid the urge to study up to the minute before the test.  If you study effectively, you will learn the material and it will come back to you when you take the test.  You need a few moments to wind down and relax before you take your test.  When possible, use the night before or morning of the test for light review (formulas, examples, etc.).  You must allow yourself time to relax and recover from all the studying over the days leading up to the test.  You also need time to process material you’ve worked so hard to learn and retain.

6.      Write formulas on the test before you begin

When you sit down to take your test, take a few minutes to write down formulas, examples, equations, and other study aids before you begin your test.  Most students who are affected by test anxiety tend to forget most of what they learned the moment they begin to work on the first problem.  My students often refer to this as a “brain freeze” or “black out.”  To avoid having a moment of forgetfulness, write out everything you need to know to perform well on your test before you begin working through the problems.  This will alleviate some anxiety during the test.

These tips may be helpful for most subjects, but I know they are effective for overcoming math test anxiety.  I hope they will be useful for you!!!

What other tips do you have for students who are affected by test anxiety?


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Placement Test Dilemma

It’s a stressful time of year for high school seniors: prom dates, graduation ceremonies, college orientations, and the dreaded college placement tests.  Most colleges require them, and some schools allow students to take them online.  My advice to high school seniors in this position is to resist the urge to have your tutor sit with you while you take the placement test or worse yet, have someone else take your placement test for you.  Yes, you may run the risk of prolonging registration for the required courses for your major.  But you also run the risk of struggling through your freshman year courses.

Imagine this.  You barely make it through math class your entire high school career, but you are accepted into the college of your choice.  You receive a letter in the mail with dates and instructions for taking your math placement test.  You are nervous, but excited that you can take the test online.  You decide to hire a tutor to help you through your test, or you ask your cousin, friend, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle to take the test for you.  You beg them!!!  They agree and you place into Calculus 1. 

 You get to class on the first day and can’t begin to decipher what the professor just said or what he or she just wrote on the board.  Your heart races and you begin to panic!  You can’t go to the department head and admit that you didn’t actually take the placement test or that someone helped you through the entire test, so you suck it up and see it through.  You get a D in the course, but you have to take it over because you can’t move on until you get a C or better.  You’re right back where you were before the first day of class.

 Many people come to me and request my help for the placement test and I refuse.  Students need to be placed where they belong, even if it prolongs their plans of pursuing a degree in their desired major.  Oftentimes, my college students have placed into precalculus and can’t even solve a basic algebraic equation, let alone understand the concepts of functions.  But they press through, get a D, and beg for a C so they can move on.  Unfortunately, my hands are tied (I have guidelines I must follow).  Although they never admit that someone else took their placement test or helped them through it, I know there is no way they were placed into precalculus based upon their skill level.

The best advice is to review and practice material you already learned and do your best on the placement test!