In addition to taking working memory into account, it’s important to use direct methods to help your child with math anxiety.
One such strategy can be to write down the worries one feels before taking a math test. This is shown in a study with 20 children who were divided into two equal groups (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011). First, they took a math test where they were instructed to do their best. There was no difference in the average results for students in the two groups. Then they were to take a similar test, but before that, they were informed that much was at stake.
Pressure and reward
If they did well, they could receive a monetary prize. However, the results would be assessed in pairs, meaning combined with a fellow student’s results. At the same time, they were told that the fellow student had already completed the test and done extremely well. So, it now depended solely on them whether they would receive the monetary prize.
Impact on performance
To increase the pressure further, the poor students also learned that they would be filmed while taking the test, and classmates and teachers would watch the video. After these tough conditions were presented to the students, some of them either sat quietly for ten minutes before taking the test, or they were assigned to write down their worries freely and openly.
The results were quite different now. Those who just waited for ten minutes before taking the test performed 7% worse than before. However, those who expressed their worries in writing performed 4% better than in the first test. To investigate if these promising results could be transferred to a school situation, similar experiments were conducted with middle school students a few weeks before their final exams. Six weeks before the students were to take their final exams, they answered questions assessing how much anxiety they felt in connection with tests. A few weeks later, just before they were to take the exam, half of them were asked to write down their worries for ten minutes first. The other students formed the control group and were asked to write about a topic they were not going to be tested on.
Results from School Experiment
Researchers found a clear correlation between test anxiety and performance among the students in the control group. However, this was not the case for the students who had written down their worries first. In a follow-up study, students with high test anxiety were offered the opportunity to write down their worries before being tested. They then performed as well as students with few worries before testing.
Test performance in younger students
Similar findings were made with younger students in 2014 (Park et al., 2014). Researchers in Chicago identified students who either had high or low math anxiety. In each of these two groups, half were asked to write down their thoughts for seven minutes before a test, while the others sat quietly and thought. Then, everyone took a test that included both math and text-based tasks, with the tasks designed to load working memory to different degrees. The results showed that students with math anxiety had the most trouble with math tasks that demanded a lot of working memory. However, when these students wrote down their feelings before the test, they performed much better.
Stress and Nervousness Regulation
Another tool against math anxiety can be mental training like mindfulness. There are slightly varying perceptions of what the term “mindfulness” entails, but most agree that it involves being present in the moment with an accepting attitude toward oneself. Students who are “mindful” when working on mathematics will become aware of their physiological reactions, thoughts, and feelings. This, in turn, can help them regulate math anxiety so that it doesn’t inhibit their performance. A study involving 192 college students investigated this connection further. The results showed that those with good presence skills performed better in mathematics. Researchers believe this was because they were better able to maintain focus without being distracted by stress and nervousness (Weed, 2021).
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