Saint Louis University

Positive Self-Talk to Decrease Test Anxiety

Have you ever thought about a test and your brain became flooded with negative messages? This is negative-self talk (otherwise known as cognitive anxiety). These messages can be hard to control and can easily influence students to lose confidence and give up on exams.

Positive self-talk, before and during exams, can help build confidence and decrease test anxiety.

Examples of Negative Self-Talk:

  • "No matter what I do, I will not pass the course."
  • "I am no good at math, so why should I try?"
  • "I cannot remember the answers or I have forgotten how to do the problems. I am going to fail this test."
  • "I failed this course last semester, and I am going to flunk out again this semester."

Examples of Positive Self-Talk:

  • "I failed the course last semester, but I can now use my study/math skills to pass this course."
  • "I went blank on the last test, but I now know how to reduce test anxiety."
  • "I know that with hard work, I will pass math."
  • "I prepared for this test and will do the best I can."
  • "I feel good about myself and my abilities. I am not going to worry about that difficult problem. I'm going to use all my test time and check for careless errors. Even if I don't get the grade I want on this test, it is not the end of the world."

Students may find it difficult to stop the negative-talk and replace it with the positive self-talk. To stop those negative thoughts, especially during exams, silently shout "STOP" or "STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT." After this silent shout, repeat positive self-talk statements and find a way to better relax. This process may need to be performed a couple of times throughout a test or homework. Within each thought-stopping process, try a different relaxation technique or positive self-talk statement. This process takes time, so feel free to practice three to seven days before the exam.

Relaxation techniques and notes about positive self-talk appear in Dr. Paul D. Nolting's book Math Study Skills Workbook: Your Guide to Reducing Test Anxiety and Improving Study Strategies.

Retrieved from the West Virginia University at Parksburg website.

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