Often it is the most sensitive and talented students who are affected the most by test anxiety. Students who would ordinarily be top performers fall apart under the pressure of testing conditions. Why?
This is a phenomenon discussed in some detail in Psycho-Cybernetics by . He actually identifies two different types of response to pressure. In one profile, a person performs meticulously when the pressure is not on, then breaks down and performs poorly under pressure. In the other profile, a person performs lazily and sloppily when there is no pressure, then buckles down and performs nearly flawlessly when the stakes are high. The author used the example of a story about a man who was the world’s best golfer, as long as he was leisurely putting on the green, but if he ever competed in a tournament he would always come in last.
What causes the breakdown of performance, according to Maxwell Maltz, is an overabundance of self-correction. The remedy would be to find ways to take the pressure off internally, which consists of visualizing a positive outcome while becoming unattached to what actually happens. In other words, you have to find ways to convince yourself, or at least temporarily suspend your disbelief, that you will be successful AND that there is no danger or harm in making mistakes.