Improving Academic Performance

Overcoming Test Anxiety with Mindful Relaxation Techniques

Posted by John Hankey on Mon, Oct 27, 2014 @ 11:02 AM

At MyGuru, we understand full well the importance of confidence and anxiety management in helping students achieve their full potential on standardized tests (and all tests, for that matter).


We often talk about testing performance being driven by three factors: 

  1. How well do you know the content (i.e., the facts, formulas, and concepts to apply to the questions you’ll be asked
  2. How strong are your test taking skills (i.e., quick calculations, time management, intelligent guessing, deep understanding of question types and typical traps, etc.)
  3. How confident and focused are you on test day (i.e., not stressed, not anxious, fully engaged, calm, etc.) 

We typically address point 3 above through practice and repetition. Practice creates automaticity, so students are comfortable recalling facts or concepts and working through calculations without second guessing themselves, which reduces the chances that doubt or anxiety will start to appear in any significant way during the exam. The more times you’ve practiced under timed testing environments, the more comfortable you’ll be in the actual environment on test day. This alone can go a very long way in reducing stress and anxiety and buoying confidence for most test takes.

However, there have been practitioners of breathing techniques to relax the body and improve focus for thousands of years (i.e., meditation, yoga, mindfulness…even hypnosis), and in our view, these techniques are incredible underutilized by students. This guest post discusses how one practitioner uses these techniques and what the process is all about.

The author, John Hankey, is a certified hypnotherapist, Master Practitioner of NLP and registered 200-hour yoga instructor. He graduated with a B.S in applied mathematics from Stanford, an M.S. in Financial Economics from Oxford and spent three years on Wall Street before switching careers to become a coach. He has studied and incorporates Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Reiki and Conscious Language into his methodology.

I specialize in helping students overcome issue-specific stress, usually in 3-5 sessions or less.

Sessions begin with 10 minutes of deep relaxation. Entering this state of presence enables the participant to change at deeper levels with greater ease.

Relaxation improves the student’s body awareness and gives them a stronger understanding for how they will feel when their situation has been resolved (much more relaxed).

From here, I have students imagine that they are actually taking the test. As soon as they do so, their body begins to tense up. Their subconscious mind does not know the difference between fantasy and reality and therefore thinks the test is happening right now.

Our work focuses on the body. Where specifically does the student feel tense? Part by part, we use techniques to enable the student to progressively relax while maintaining the visualization. Eventually, students are able to see and feel and experience themselves taking the test feeling totally and completely relaxed.

This shift in internal response corresponds to a transformation in how they experience themselves during the actual examination. Once we establish their desired state, they are off and running.

Physical relaxation addresses the mental realm as well! Negative thought patterns result from interior tension. Positive thought patterns and mental clarity result from interior relaxation, a concept that yogis, meditators and martial artists have known for millennia.

Furthermore, unwinding test anxiety transfers out into all examination scenarios. Once their test-taking state is exactly how they wish it to be, we can focus on another area of their lives: doing homework, relating to friends at school, nutrition…anything. 

I have had many clients stay with me for a number of sessions as we systematically upgrade and transform their performance in many, many areas of life.

This revolutionary approach represents a new paradigm, a shift in focus for our society. The degree to which we can relax in any given moment is the barometer for our overall health, well-being and vitality. Improving this skill, strengthening our capacity for relaxation like a muscle is the foundation for our personal growth for people of all ages.


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