Overcoming Math Anxiety with Creative Assessments

By Seon Kim

We’ve all been there. You’ve done everything possible to prepare for this math test. You paid attention in class. You took down meticulous notes. You did all the homework, asked the teacher questions, and even went in for extra help. You studied the review problems and redid the problems. As you walk into class, you pump yourself up, saying, “You got this!”

When you get to your desk, you look over your notes one last time, and that confidence is wavering, but you know you’re ready. Then the teacher tells you to put away your notebook. The nerves begin to kick in, and a slight panic wafts over you. The teacher puts the test in front of you, and you look at the first problem. It doesn’t look familiar. You flip through the test, and nothing looks like what you studied.

It has happened again; your mind is blank. The panic fully takes over, and you begin to question your intelligence, asking yourself why this always happens. Testing anxiety is real. It consumes you. But you are smart, prepared, and know this material.

Testing Creatively

As Fusion Academy teachers in a 1-on-1 setting, we know what the students are and are not understanding, and we’re familiar with navigating through their testing anxieties. We even prepare and anticipate this when we plan. We’ll pull every trick from our toolbox to try to alleviate this. But still, students will freeze up and blank out when that test sits in front of them. How do we change the feeling around math and math tests? We should be asking ourselves, though: Is math so dry that assessments have to look like paper and pencil? It doesn’t. In a 1-on-1 setting, the teachers get to be creative in how they assess.

One way I’ve done this in my classroom is to turn a test into a more exciting challenge.

Have you done an escape room? Before each escape room I’ve done, I get that anxious feeling. Not of panic, but of excitement about what types of clues await me. Excitement is the feeling that we want our students to get when test day comes, not of panic or dread, but exhilaration for the test has for them.

An Escape Room Test

Now it’s test day, and I’ve set up an escape room for one of my students. The escape room starts when they read that first clue. I put 45 minutes on the clock, and they begin working out the problem to their first lock. The wheels begin turning, and I get to witness their thought process firsthand. I’m watching them develop critical thinking as they navigate the problem. They know when they’re not correct in an answer when the lock does not unclasp. Then, the troubleshooting begins. Rather than feeling defeated by the math problem in front of them, they’re determined to figure out the code.

There’s instant gratification of knowing their answer was correct when the lock unclasps and their next clue appears. On to the next, until they “escape.” Maybe they don’t escape, but when they figure out those math problems for each clue that they get to, that’s a win! That’s a win in building up their academic self-confidence, and that’s a win against testing anxiety.

About the Author

Math and Science Teacher/Mentor

Fusion Mission Viejo

Seon (pronounced ‘sun’) Kim is in her sixth year as a Math and Science Teacher/Mentor on the Fusion Mission Viejo campus, and is Fusion’s National Math Department Head. Always an innovative teacher, she has brought the same creativity to her role as the Math and Science Department Head in the last two years by implementing annual school-wide projects and the campus’s first STEAM Fair. 

Prior to Fusion, Seon spent seven years in the traditional setting working with students of all grade levels to support a variety of learning needs and diverse backgrounds. She is excited and grateful to serve in this new role as National Math Department Head as it is an opportunity to bring more teachers and DHs across campuses together in an effort to better support one another and our students. In her free time, you will most likely catch Seon at the tastiest new restaurant, solving puzzles in an escape room, or trying out a new technique for her most recent passion of tie-dying!