(1) Mary was having trouble in math. Whenever her teacher gave a test or quiz, Mary became nervous and flustered. She was always worried about running out of time, so she hurried through each question. Often, she guessed at the answer because she did not allow herself the time to work it out. As a result, she was barely passing math. Mary knew that she could do better, but she couldn’t get over her test-taking nerves.
(2) One day she woke up with the flu. Her mother called the school to tell them that Mary would be staying home that day. It just so happened that while Mary was at home getting better, she missed a math test at school. When she returned a few days later, her math teacher arranged for her to make up the exam after school. “Take your time,” her teacher said. And for the first time, that’s exactly what Mary did. She took her time and thought carefully about each question. She found that it was easier to concentrate when she was not worried about the class period ending too soon. The teacher graded her paper as soon as she was done, and Mary’s grade was an A.
(3) Mary was excited that she had finally figured out how to excel in math. So when the next math test approached, Mary pretended to be sick. Mary did not want to lie, and her mother was not easy to convince, but, with the math test in mind, Mary moaned and complained of an upset stomach. Finally, her mother conceded, and Mary was allowed to stay home from school. When she returned to school, she was, once again, given a make-up exam after school, and, once again, she earned an A.
(4) When the next math test came, Mary tried to convince her mother that she was sick again. But this time, Mary’s mother wouldn’t take the bait. “You don’t have a fever. You’re going to school,” her mother said. So, when Mary went to school and took her math test with the rest of her class, her nerves got the best of her. She scored a C.
(5) Mary’s math teacher called her mother and suggested the three of them meet to discuss Mary’s math grades. At the meeting, Mary’s teacher asked her why she scored so much better on the make-up exams than she did on the others. Mary explained that she preferred to take the test after school because it was less stressful to take the test without a time limit.
(6) Mary’s teacher was surprised to hear this explanation. “When you take the test after school, you always complete it within the same amount of time given to all the other students in a regular class period.”
(7) “Really?” Mary asked. “I feel like I take forever. I’m so nervous that I will run out of time that I rush through the problems.” “It’s all in your head,” the teacher said. “Have confidence in yourself.” Mary’s teacher told her to practice her concentration and pace at home every night when she sat down to do her math homework. She gave Mary some tips on how to breathe deeply, relax, and tune out distractions. Mary was so relieved. She would never have to pretend to be sick again.