Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Math Anxiety


Hello, I am an Engineering student with a growing issue of blanking out during exams. Earlier in my coursework it occurred here and there, so I just studied more and it helped. Now, its just a down right problem, and it only occurs when it involves math. Yet, I'm always so calm when doing HW to point where I'm solving things in my head, so I just don't get it.

So any advice or direction you may have is appreciated.  


Hi John

You suffer from the second-most common of all school phobias or CERs (conditioned emotional responses). (The first is having to give a talk in class, which I've researched and published on.)

It's good that you asked us because excellent help is available, not so much in curing but in coping with it. And people who learn to cope with such a problem are more successful generally because the techniques easily generalize to other problems that inevitably surface throughout life.

Because of its prevalence, there's considerable excellent material on this on the Internet (some of which I was a consultant for), so for the first time in answering thousands of questions, it would be more effective if I referred you there.  

I'd start by googling this awkwardly-named site: "Coping with Math Anxiety Plutonic Realms Mini Texts." Even Wikipedia has an entry called Math Anxiety, and there are many others.

As with all such help, the objective should be realistic. It's not to make you a math lover (although a colleague who teaches advanced statistics got into it because of a severe math phobia in high school) but someone who gets as high a score on his math exams as if the topic didn't particularly bother him. Finally, any classmate who tells you that exams don't bother him is lying. Exams are always stressful for everybody, and it's easy to confuse exam anxiety with math anxiety.

Hope that will do it for you, but after reviewing what's there, send me a follow-up if you have one or if the material doesn't work for you. Meanwhile, I wish you the best of fortune in your studies.


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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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