Tips to Overcome Test Anxiety for Math and Standardized Tests

Mar 27, 2019 | Norman

Feeling nervous before a quiz or test in math class is normal for children and teens. However, if a student suffers from extreme feelings of anxiety and stress before and during a test, those negative feelings can impact their overall health.  The anxiety can be problematic if it prevents a student from doing their best on an exam or leads to stress in their everyday school work and homework. 

Mathnasium of TallahasseeWhen it comes to math, test anxiety can be further compounded by math anxiety. 

Many families and students come to Mathnasium of Tallahassee and share that their child “doesn’t like” math.  Through the years, education researchers have investigated if this dislike evolves into math anxiety and the impact it has on a child’s ability to learn math and their long-term self confidence in academics. 

Regardless of whether it’s math anxiety or test anxiety, or a combination of both, the impact on a child or teen’s academic performance can be felt.  In today’s classroom, math quizzes and tests are just one part of the student’s experience.  State tests, including FSA (Florida Standards Assessments), EOC (End of Course), Georgia Milestones and GSE (Georgia Standards of Excellence), along with the SAT and ACT, have created an alphabet soup of tests for kids to navigate each year of their school career from elementary to middle school to high school. 

What is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, like the anxiety a child or teen may experience before trying out for the school play, singing solo in the choir, playing in a sporting event, or going to a job interview.   

In these situations, the anxiety can lead to "butterflies,” sweating or rapid heartbeat.  A student may even feel like he or she might pass out or throw up.

Simply put, test anxiety manifests as both physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with a student’s test taking abilities.  The degree of anxiety can vary.  The underlying causes can vary.

Potential Test Anxiety Symptoms
Test anxiety symptoms will differ from child to child, but for many, when they sit down for a math test they experience the following:


  • headache
  • nausea
  • extreme sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • lightheadedness
  • feeling faint


  • feelings of stress
  • fear
  • helplessness
  • negative thoughts (assuming failure before even starting the test)
  • forgetfulness or “mind went blank”
  • difficulty concentrating


Potential Causes of Test Anxiety
The pressure of doing well on a school test or standardized test may be motivating for some, but for others, the stress can be detrimental.   Test anxiety can be triggered by:

  • fear of how others will view you based on the test result
  • concerns about your self-image
  • self-esteem or self confidence issues
  • lack of preparation
  • past test failures
  • focusing on the impact of a poor performance

The more a person focuses on the negative, the stronger the anxiety becomes. This makes the student feel worse. These fears increase the chances of doing poorly on the math class test, state test or college entrance exam.


What Can You Do to Overcome Test Anxiety?
If your student begins to stress over their next math test, there are several strategies and tactics that can be used to help keep their math test anxiety at a manageable level. 


Before the Test

Take care of yourself
Eat well, get enough rest and sleep and be sure to exercise or participate in relaxing and fun activities consistently. 

Actively prepare
Getting ready for a test is more than simply paying attention in class.  Advanced studying is key.  Cramming or “pulling an all-nighter” the day before the test only help fuel test anxiety.  Scheduled, consistent study time to review is beneficial.

Avoid Shortcuts
If students are relying on the answer key in the back of a math text book or looking up answers online, it may help them get through the homework assignment, but they are not truly learning.  Often, students suffer from math test anxiety because they do well on the homework assignment but then struggle on tests.  Relying on these shortcuts may help get through homework, but students won’t truly understand what they are learning and are unable to apply the concepts on tests.  If a student doesn’t understand something, instead of taking short cuts, it’s beneficial to ask for help from a math tutor or math teacher.  

Ask for Help
If a student is struggling to understand classwork or math homework, get assistance.  Mathnasium of Tallahassee’s math tutors work with students to review material in advance of math tests and exams.  Students who may be embarrassed about asking questions in class, can rest assured that asking questions with a math tutor at our math learning center is easy.  During one-on-one instruction, the type of tutoring environment provided at Mathnasium of Tallahassee, the student is more comfortable asking for additional explanations and clarifications.    

Identify Negative Thinking and Practice Thinking Positively
It is important to think positive. Positive thoughts increase the sense of control.  Negative thinking undermines confidence and reduces motivation.  Simple steps such as repeating encouraging statements to yourself or reading inspiring quotes can be helpful.  Some students rely on listening to energizing music.   

Know the Details
Make sure you know test dates, start times and concepts to be covered, along with any materials or tools needed, such as can you use a calculator, or not.  Ensure there are no scheduling conflicts or events that may impact the student’s readiness for the test, such as extra-curricular activities that may interrupt study prep or staying up late the night before a test.


Day of the Test

Start the Day Right
The night before the test, be sure to get a good night’s sleep.  In the morning, eat a high-protein breakfast.  Don’t eat or drink anything you wouldn’t normally eat.  For example, if you’re not a coffee drinker, now is not the time to start. 

Call Time Out
After settling into your desk, STOP. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Open your eyes. Get to work.

Read Directions and Questions
Make sure you read the instructions carefully. Read each question carefully.  You don’t want to answer a page of questions only to find the first half asked you to do addition while the second half asked you to do subtractraction and you missed the change. 

Neatness Counts
For paper tests, fill in the bubbles carefully, and make sure you can read your own handwriting to understand your work. Don’t miss a point because you thought you wrote an 8 but you really wrote a 3.

Budget Your Time
Breeze through easier questions and save the bulk of your allotted time for questions that require more effort. Be mindful of questions that may earn you more points than others. Keep track of time as you work through the test. Stay focused and on task.

Check Your Work
If you finish ahead of time, double check your answers. Be on the lookout for careless mistakes you may have made.

Don’t Panic
If you’re short on time, don’t panic. Do your best. This is where it’s important to know in advance if there is the possibility to earn partial credit or if you’re penalized for guessing and will lose points for incorrect answers.

Final Check
Give yourself a few minutes at the end of each section to make sure you didn’t put the right answer in the wrong place or accidentally skip a question you didn’t intend to leave blank.


Overcoming test anxiety or math anxiety won’t happen overnight. However, with the proper approach, it can be effectively addressed, improving a student’s performance in math class, on quizzes and tests and standardized tests, including FSA (Florida Standards Assessments), EOC (End of Course) and GSE (Georgia Standards of Excellence), along with the SAT and ACT.