Home > Articles > Counselling > Overcome Test Anxiety

Site Map

(416) 234-1850


Agape Christian Counselling serving Mississauga, Toronto, GTA, Ontario, Canada

How to Overcome Test Anxiety

Learning and unlearning fears

© George Hartwell M.Sc. www.HealMyLife.com, all rights reserved, 2005

Fears can be viewed as a form of learning or conditioning. What is learned can be unlearned. Conditioning can be reversed.

When a neutral stimulus (sound, sight, thought or image) is associated with frightening thought, image or experience learning may occur. One may learn to be anxious and to avoid the neutral stimulus.

A young child may be quite startled, shocked and afraid when a balloon breaks. The experience may be so dramatic that the child is anxious in the presence of balloons and avoids them in the future. Avoiding balloons reduces the anxiety and rewards the behaviour of avoiding balloons. This would be how a 'balloon phobia' could start.

In this example, balloon phobia, 'counterconditioning' may be needed. New conditioned associations with balloons will reduce the power of the original conditioning and reduce or remove the fear. Basically this person needs to experience balloons in a positive mood or state.

One could design treatment by associating balloons with different forms of music, food, beautiful scenery, an attractive person, etc. In systematic desensitization relaxed states and relaxation images are alternated with imagined scenes associated with anxiety.


Systematic Desensitization of Test Anxiety

Some students have good marks and intelligence but block, choke of freeze in formal tests and exams and do poorly. One would use systematic desensitization to allow  students to mobilize their intelligence and learning in test situations and perform well.

Make use of professional services if your fears are interfering with normal life and work or do not yield to self-help procedures. A trained therapist could set up treatment using systematic desensitization along the following lines:

1.Make a list of scenes (events and thoughts) associated with test anxiety and rank them from low to high in terms of the amount of anxiety their trigger with two or three associated with ten levels of anxiety from #1 - lowest to #10 - highest.

2.Practice a set of relaxation skills with you until relaxation comes readily. The skills that I use are:

a)Tensing and relaxing 10 key muscle groups. Combine relaxing a muscle group with a self-talk cue like: "relax now."

b)Focusing awareness on breathing and doing full complete breaths. Combine a self-talk counting cue with breathing such as: "relax one,  &ldots;"

c)Picture a relaxing scene - imagined or real - with good associations. For example relaxing on a lounge chair on a Caribbean beach on a lovely warm day with sounds of the surf rolling. Combine this image with self-talk like: "I really enjoy this." "This is wonderful." "I feel so relaxed."

3.Alternate picturing the relaxing image (30 seconds) with scenes associated with test anxiety (15 seconds) beginning with those scenes that trigger the least amount of anxiety. Move on to higher ranked scenes when the initial scenes (level #1) produce little or no anxiety. Use the relaxation skills to stay in a state in which relaxation dominates over anxiety.

Resources - 

Overcoming Fear by George Hartwell (416) 234-1850, www.HealMyLife.com


1.Beck, Aaron & Emery. Anxiety Disorders and Phobias, 1985. Outlines a treatment program based on cognitive therapy. Tends to be for the clinician.

2.Benson, Herbert. The Relaxation Response, 1975. Presents a specific strategy for reducing stress - learning how to relax.

3.Benson, Herbert. Beyond the Relaxation Response, 1984. Describes a strategy of harnessing faith in a healing power inside or outside oneself.

4.Bourne, Edmund. Beyond Anxiety and Phobia, 2001. A self-help book focusing on life style changes needed to help combat anxiety and panic attacks. Library.

5.Carrington, Patricia. The power of letting Go. Helpful self-help book with a new approach to overcoming anxiety involving releasing of control. Recommended.

6.Clarkson, Michael. Intelligent Fear, 2002. A clearly written study on fear and on training and harnessing one's fears to enhance performance. Highly recommended to expand on the concept of high performance fear or 'smart fear.'

7.Donovan, Denis, and D. McIntyre. What did I Just Say!?! Insights into children's thinking and adult language and how to communicate with your child. Includes some examples how adult talk created childhood fears. Recommended.

8.Gallwey, Timothy. The Inner Game of Work, 2000. The Inner Game of Tennis. The Inner Game of Golf. An innovative understanding of how we need to get our mind out of the way in order to maximize work, music and sports performance. His work help's one to understand how to structure work and play, management and coaching so that one is able to access full potential. Recommended.

9.Hartwell, George. Listen to God, 2002. An outline of some of the methods used in Listening Prayer Therapy to deal with different topics. Listening Prayer Therapy is a treatment method harnessing the power of prayer to penetrate root memories and bring healing to the negative beliefs resident in these memories.

10.Maltz, Maxwell. Five Minutes to Happiness, 1962. Thoughts to Live By, 1975. Self-help in relaxing, positive thinking and establishing a new self-image.

11.Peurifoy, Reneau. Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic, 1995. A well-rounded self-help book covering good variety of topics. In Toronto Public library system.

12.Siegel, Robert. Six Seconds to True Calm, 1995. A self-help book based on a training program for relaxation and relief of stress with innovative components.

13.Seligman, Martin. Learned Optimism, 1990. An excellent self-help book focused on positive thinking based on psychological research. Encourages one to develop a more optimistic life style.

14.Watson, David and R. Tharp. Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for personal Adjustment, 1972. Includes instructions for self managed desensitization.

15.Wilson, Reid. Don't Panic: Taking control of Anxiety Attacks, 1986. This book is highly rated by clinicians and is considered an easy to read self-help book. The book provides specific instructions on relaxation techniques similar to those referred to in "Overcoming Fear."

Home   Articles    Professional Services   What Clients Say    About Us    Contact Us