The Many Faces of Test Anxiety

Clinical Hypnotherapist, Benjamin Moss specializes in the reduction of test anxiety. This article uses real client situations to demonstrate how "attachment" to passing the test intensifies test anxiety and blocks test performance.

“I have to pass the Bar Exam the first time. My father passed the Bar the first time. HIS father passed it the first time. Both of my uncles passed the first time. And, my older brother passed the first time. There’s a position waiting for me in the family law firm – contingent upon my passing the Bar the first time. I have to pass. I have to.”

This was the opening statement from my 11 AM client that day – an intense 28 yr. old law school graduate who was six weeks away from the notorious California State Bar Exam – a test that more than 50% will regularly fail. My job was to help him overcome his test anxiety and pass the test.

My 12 O’clock client that day was pregnant. Her first child (age two) was in the waiting room with her husband; a very lovely young family. She was under pressure from her employer, struggling to make the time for eight to ten hours a day of studying, financial stresses mounting…

My 2 PM client just couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t studying much either. Sleep deprived, extremely nervous, evading, avoiding and procrastinating about studying, he wanted me to hypnotize him to sleep. We had a long talk and hammered out a plan to focus our hypnotherapy sessions on adhering to a strict study schedule.

My last client of the day was on her way to the Bar for the second time. In her previous visit she’d had what is sometimes referred to as a complete “meltdown.” Unable to perform at all on the day of the exam, she actually left the testing site without ever answering a single question. Now, after this shattering experience, and, after months and months of additional preparation, she was about to go again.

In each case there was anxiety beyond what would be characterized as simple test jitters. When someone experiences excessive anxiety – to the point where it keeps them from being able to study effectively, or blocks them from performing on the day of the test – there is some excessive “attachment” to passing the test. Inadvertently, they have let the test assume a disproportionate significance, “attaching” to the test their sense of self-worth, their status in the eyes of their parents, or their success in the role of providing for their family.

When they can let go of this intense “attachment” to the results of the test, there is an enormous calming effect, clients relax and can focus and study effectively, and, the probability of passing the exam skyrockets.

Benjamin Moss,C.HT.

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