Blog Challenge: How can counter-conditioning be used to reduce test anxiety?

Dear Readers,
This is my first blog challenge! Your ideas can be formal or informal, for online or face-to-face instruction, for a real testing situation or an imaginary one.  Think like an entrepreneur for the educational market.  For example, I love Wired magazine’s competition, “Found”, where they ask what the world will look like in the future.  (See to see the future of wrist watches.)
You can 1) add your ideas as comments below, 2) email me with a complete blog post as,  or 3) write a post addressing the challenge on your own blog, as is protocol for such challenges.  With your permission, I’ll then link your blog posts to this one.  Anyone can participate—students, teachers, parents, entrepreneurs, etc.
I’m currently taking an educational psychology graduate course and learned about behaviorism.  In my idea below I used the idea of counter-conditioning and setting events to imagine a nonthreatening test center.  I’ve provided my ideas on providing counter-conditioning to extinguish learners’ test anxiety.
Challenge: Provide your ideas on how counter-conditioning could be used to reduce test anxiety.

Sandra Rogers: I’d like to set up simulated math tests in a computer lab to lessen math anxiety.  For example, we could use low-stakes, color-coded, leveled tests akin to SRA Reading Kit for pen and paper tests. (Some of you are too young to have used these leveled readers with self-testing but something about it was extrinsically motivating).   Perhaps Pearson’s MyMathLab computer testing software that adjusts to the individual’s abilities and challenges them at the i+1 level.  The lab could allow eating and drinking during the testing situations…maybe even a smoking test room for students who believe this could benefit their outcomes!  The lab décor could be more inviting with art on the wall.  The test-taking situation would have options beyond the normal desk & chair formality: the ability to stand while testing, or comfortable sofas for lounging, and space to allow for movement (perhaps some exercise bikes formatted with computer screens)!  Of course, we wouldn’t want too much as to be distracting.  This lab would allow for math test practice in a positive climate with threshold activities in an environment incompatible to a stressful situation.  I’d like an university to set up a research study with this idea in mind  to see if it’d be beneficial to students with test-anxiety.


Thanks in advance for your participation in this blog challenge.


  • Generalizing a bit from recent research findings, I think that behaviorist techniques (including counterconditioning) are most productive when combined with techniques based on more cognitivist approaches. For example, a strict classical conditioning approach would involve exposing a student to test-like situations (stimuli) in conjunction with other, non-anxiety-arousing stimuli (e.g., a generally relaxing environment or, better still, a learning environment that has consistently been associated with success rather than failure). But it also helps to teach students the knowledge and skills they need to be successful on tests—not only testwiseness skills (such training has only a small effect) but also knowledge/skills in the domain being assessed (math, reading, whatever). Cognitivist approaches provide more guidance about how to do such things.


    • Dear Dr. Ormrod,
      I truly appreciate your informative response. As I mentioned in my email, your textbook on human learning unveiled many secrets to life. Beforehand, I thought I was a constructivist; now I realize that my teaching philosophy is more of myriad of best practices. For example, I use the behaviorist’s measurable objectives (SMART goals), the sociocultural cooperative learning, as well as the cognitivist’s self-regulated learning. In fact, I need to rewrite my teaching philosophy on this blog to better reflect my new understanding of human learning. At this point, I’m not sure which learning theory dominates my core beliefs, as I just started my first year of graduate studies in instructional design.


  • Hi Martin! How are you? I’m glad you want to give my challenge a try. I look forward to your response.


  • Martin Wininger

    Interesting idea. I’ll have to give this a little thought and get back to you…


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