Test-taking anxiety. I remember well sitting at my desk in middle school as Mrs. Smith, my English teacher, handed stacks of mimeographed grammar tests to the first kid in each row to pass out behind him. I liked the mimeo smell, but that was where the enjoyment ended. The next sensation to emerge was a knot in the gut and a feeling of dread, which soon morphed into a sense of glazing over. I felt mentally paralyzed and sweaty. No, it wasn't from smelling the mimeo vapors. I was in the grip of test-taking anxiety.
Test-taking anxiety strikes many students, from the fourth-grader taking a spelling test to the college graduate taking her LSATs. In my practice as a certified hypnotist, more and more kids are coming to me for Guided Relaxation work so they can loosen up and improve their performance.
How Guided Relaxation helps
So what actually happens in this perspiration-inducing process, and why does Guided Relaxation help?
Imagine you are at a party, and approaching you is someone whose name you just cannot recall. Your heart starts to race and a rush of adrenaline starts to flow as you wrack your mind for the name. Is it Brenda? Sue? You can’t remember.
What’s happened is that a command was given by your conscious mind to your subconscious where memory resides to find the name that's associated with the face you are seeing. You've told it to scan the files, and as it flounders, you repeat the command again. In doing so, you have essentially jammed the mechanism within, and the gears stop turning. Often it isn’t until you stop trying that the name pops up — but by then it’s too late. Relaxation is what has let the information flow.
The same thing happens to kids when they try too hard to recall information when taking tests, or overwhelm themselves with feelings of being incapable of doing well. When the student’s mind is coached to visualize calmness and confidence, and a post hypnotic "anchor" is suggested, the ability to achieve calm in reality becomes much easier. The subconscious is allowed to cooperate, thereby opening the gates to knowledge.
Recently, a client named Sonia, a high school senior, came to me in anticipation of taking the ACT exams. Sonia had been choking on her practice tests; because of her near panic, she couldn't finish the tests on time. She was referred by the owner of a private tutoring school who realized that this was not a problem of ability. Sonia was bright, but had become convinced that she would have difficulty thinking clearly when taking the tests.
Working together, we created a mental image of her getting very comfortable at her desk, smiling and confident because she knew she had prepared thoroughly and would effortlessly know the information. She was also given the suggestion that she would tap her pencil gently on the desk before any challenging question, and a sense of calm would surface. This combination of visualization and post hypnotic suggestion worked well.
“I finished in record time with some minutes to spare,” Sonia reported. “I feel smarter and much more capable. I couldn't believe the difference.”
Annie was a middle school student who was the opposite of Sonia when it came to taking tests. Because she got nervous, she rushed through the exams, often misreading instructions and never checking her answers. Through Guided Relaxation, I had her envision herself moving in slow motion as if she were watching a DVD of herself at half-speed. I suggested she imagine a magnifying glass hovering above each question and enlarging her view. She learned to take a deep breath and slowly exhale prior to each question. As a result, her test scores improved substantially.
Then there was Lianna, who had failed her Bar exam twice. I met her for three sessions before she re-took the test. I used a different technique with her, this time having her revisit an earlier period in her life when she felt very confident (for her, it was playing basketball). Using that memory, I helped her "transfer" the feeling of confidence to the test-taking image. Our last session was the evening prior to her test. The third time was a charm — Lianna is now a practicing attorney.ROBERT PARGAMENT is a Certified Hypnotist and a member of The National Guild of Hypnotists and the New England Institute of Hypnosis. He is the founder and president of the Westchester Hypnosis Center in Armonk. 1-800-675-7583; www.hypnosiswestchester.com.