Relieve Test Anxiety with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“In mindfulness-based therapy, the person focuses on the bodily sensations that arise when he or she is anxious. Instead of avoiding or withdrawing from these feelings, he or she remains present and fully experiences the symptoms of anxiety. Instead of avoiding distressing thoughts, he or she opens up to them in an effort to realize and acknowledge that they are not literally true. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, fully realizing the experience of anxiety enables anxious people to release their over identification with negative thoughts. The person practices responding to disruptive thoughts, and letting these thoughts go.” – George Hofmann


It’s a normal human response to become anxious while being evaluated by others. In fact, the vast majority of students report that the stress and anxiety associated with being evaluated is greater than that produced by anything else in their lives. The majority of students are able to cope with the anxiety and perform on tests in spite of it. But, for a minority of students, somewhere around 16%-20%, the anxiety level is so high that it causes them to “freeze” on tests and markedly impair their performance. It is estimated that they perform 12 points lower, more than one letter grade, on average than students lower in anxiety. Counselling centers in colleges and universities report that evaluation anxiety is the most common complaint that they treat among students.


It has been demonstrated repeatedly that mindfulness counteracts anxiety and mindfulness training is an effective treatment for a variety of forms of anxiety. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Academic Evaluation Anxiety: A Naturalistic Longitudinal Study.” See:

or below or view the full text of the study at:

Dundas and colleagues examine the effectiveness of an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for the treatment of test anxiety in college students. MBSR involves training in three mindfulness practices; meditation, body scan, and yoga. Students were tested for anxiety levels, self-esteem, and self-efficacy before, during, and after MBSR training and before their first test after training and later follow-up. The students’ anxiety levels were compared to a group of untreated students.


They found significant improvements with moderate effect sizes in evaluation, state, and trait anxiety levels, self-esteem, and self-efficacy following MBSR treatment. The students showed improvements in both the cognitive and emotional components of evaluation anxiety. The improvement in anxiety levels continued following the end of treatment such that at the long-term follow-up point, as much as two years later, evaluation anxiety levels were significantly lower than they were after the completion of treatment. Hence, MBSR treatment significantly reduced evaluation anxiety and improved self-esteem and self-efficacy in college students and the students continued improving afterwards.


These are impressive results. But, given the demonstrated efficacy of MBSR for the treatment of anxiety and the reduction of stress, they are not surprising. Mindfulness training and MBSR in particular have been shown to significantly reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. A reduction in the students’ responses to the stress of evaluation should reduce anxiety. Since this would be expected, in turn, to improve performance, this may result in further improvement as confidence levels rise. The fact that the students reported improved self-efficacy after MBSR supports the idea that they also improved in confidence. So, mindfulness treatment might well produce an upward spiral of improved anxiety levels and performance.


So, relieve test anxiety with mindfulness.


“”Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful. Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’” – Marc Williams


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Dundas, I., Thorsheim, T., Hjeltnes, A., & Binder, P. E. (2016). Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Academic Evaluation Anxiety: A Naturalistic Longitudinal Study. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 30(2), 114–131.



Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) for academic evaluation anxiety and self-confidence in 70 help-seeking bachelor’s and master’s students was examined. A repeated measures analysis of covariance on the 46 students who completed pretreatment and posttreatment measures (median age = 24 years, 83% women) showed that evaluation anxiety and self-confidence improved. A growth curve analysis with all 70 original participants showed reductions in both cognitive and emotional components of evaluation anxiety, and that reduction continued postintervention. Although more research is needed, this study indicates that MBSR may reduce evaluation anxiety.


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