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Any cure for totally exam or test phobic?



Does anyone know whether there is a ‘cure’ for people who are totally exam or test phobic? If there is, what’s the cure?

I train ICT to employees of a large organisation that leads to ECDL qualification; I have about five people who will not sit the tests even though they are capable to do so.

These people are so petrified at the thought of the word test or exam that they would not sit the test. They have plentiful of unpleasant lasting memories from school time that they seem unable to overcome these baggages.

I have done, I think, everything including giving the participants mock tests when the module is completed, and telling them the actual tests are almost identical with the mock tests, and persuading them that they would pass the tests without any difficulties, and out of my ingenuity and cost though this may or may not be morally and ethically correct, I have promised them there would be a GBP twenty note for every module test they pass. I am not a qualified educational counsellor, and as a trainer, I feel I can’t do anymore.

They are happy attending the ECDL training. They never miss the training, and they enjoy learning new skills which demonstrate that the training and training styles are correct and acceptable.

What must a trainer do to ‘cure’ this disease, if it is a disease?

Many thanks.


14 Responses

  1. Tests and more
    I think one of the worst ways to treat a test/exam phobia is to over expose the person to it. In other words to make them believe they have to do it with or without money!The test will loom significant proportions that will affect performance.

    They clearly have a resistance to the testing format, would it not be possible to discuss with the employer a different way of proving competence? I am thinking here of them producing a few NVQ units as an alternative. If they have the choice they may come around to thinking testing is a better and speedier alternative. They may resist testing because they feel it is inappropriate to their job roles, seniority, any number of things. An alternative based on proving competence over time by good quality evidence might be a way of breaking a stranglehold position.

    The best of luck anyway!

    Training by Design Global Ltd

  2. Would sit the tests but totally scared!
    Dear Susan

    Thank you for your reply.

    There are approximately 120 shop floor employees to train, and everyone of them apart from these five people, don’t object, albeit few may have unfounded fear which I managed to iron out, to sitting the ECDL tests.

    Those who endeavoured to sit the tests to date, even though they were a bit fearful to start with the first module, but now they walk tall and are unafraid of sitting the reminder of the tests. To my surprise, their average pass mark is 95 per cent which is very high indeed.

    Their employers do not want to administer and entertain NVQ therefore the idea of NVQ-ing them is out of question. My remit is to encourage and coach and train as many employees to pass the ECDL as possible and leave these people out.

    My assessment is that they are, like their contemporaries, able to pass the tests. However they are just totally scared to sit them due to the reasons stated in my h-e-l-p query. As a trainer, and I could be wrong, I feel it is my duty to resort to any means to ensure that at the end of this training project that every participant should have something to show.


  3. Predicament
    Thank you for letting me know a little more. It seems you feel they need the door unlocking.

    Have you thought about a self testing method. They will not get the ECDL from it but it is designed to provide an immediate answer so the threat of failure after 30 mins would be gone? This could build confidence over time, to the extent that the student is able to take the ECDL with confidence.

    The individual topic area is self marking as the ‘test’ proceeds and provides feedback immediately to the student so they control the process and the results do not need to be provided to anyone else. It is based on multiple choice answers and can be designed to mark any of the modules of ECDL. It can be used to check understanding of a higher IT standard than ECDL.

    You will need to check these people’s ‘buy-in’ to the ultimate goal of the ECDL test and ensure that their turned off response is something they really wish to overcome as if it is something they can live with and never sit another test in their life you may have to live with it too. Ideally when coaching the effort should move , by this stage, to 25% coach and 75% student not the other way around.

    If you are interested in the test I can let you have an example later this month.

    Training By Design Global Ltd

  4. Have you tried the devious route?
    I had a similar situation in England a couple of years ago. One candidate could pass mock exams in the 90%+’s but failed when sitting the real exam. I discussed this with the examining board involved and got their agreement to set this person up to do the ‘real’ exam at the same time others were doing a ‘mock’ exam. The individual didn’t know until the results of the exams were announced, when they were then told about it. This initial success also went some way to overcomming the problem itself. It took some negotiating and support on the side of the examining board, but we had sufficient evidence to prove that the individual was capable. The examining board were also very supportive in our efforts to solve the problem – so I would suggest you discuss it with them as they may have ideas for you too!

  5. Threats??? Are they ok and wise?
    Dear Bob

    Thank you very much for your comments.

    Kindly clarify what you meant by threats.

    Many thanks.

  6. Testing
    The word ‘threat’ in the context I used is the emotional response of the student to testing.

    They perceive the test as a threat and therefore are responding by ‘flight’ as far away as possible from it.

    If you can work with the examination board to the end suggested and this solves the issue then that sounds good too, however I am not sure whether it is any test ie mock or not that is the problem here.

    I can also see trust problems with students being ‘duped’ into a mock that subsequently turns out to be the real thing. Adult learners tend not to respond as well to being ‘duped’ and I personally would not do it even though I can see the benefits. I would work much more on looking at the reasons for resistance which could be employment related.

    Training By Design Global Ltd

  7. THREATS and DEVIOUS means (!!!)
    This is my comment to Hilary Morrish Allen’s and Susan McGaughran’s previous replies.

    I feel uncomfortable using devious methods even if they may justify the desired outcomes. I used a devious means before in a different organisation and it backfired totally, and the participants ceased attending the training. They didn’t like it; they felt cheated and let down. Furthermore, there are issues whether such methods are morally and ethically acceptable.

    I would prefer to work on, like Susan McGaughran stated, examining at the reasons why these people resist sitting the tests.

    I have been informed that some of these people don’t have a full (vehicle driving) licence hence, without a qualified driver sitting in the car with them, they can’t drive a car lawfully despite the fact that they have the skill, and are totally competent to drive a car.

    Their reason: fear of taking the test. Fear is a four-letter word. Two of the delegates had attempted taking the (car) driving test, but they were so fearful that they failed several times. It became a costly exercise, and they now stop taking the (car) driving test. They accept that they will never pass the test and don’t bother to re-attempt taking the test. They also accept that they will never be able to drive a car on their own for the rest of their lives.

    One thing that really surprises me, and perhaps I am being flippant here, is that how do these people go through life without, and/or resisting, sitting tests? Aren’t tests or exams part of life?

    I didn’t grow up, and go to school, in UK thus I can’t comment much on its schooling systems. I grew up and went to school in a country where my weekly schooling diets consisted of tests after tests, and end of year exams after exams. If any pupils refuse to sit the tests/exams then the schools don’t allow them to continue their school education. Education in that country is exceptionally prized. Today the same educational systems still exist and haven’t changed. This is by no means a comparative account, and there may be flaw in the systems where I grew up, but one thing is certain is that I don’t have fear sitting any tests or exams thus my original question i.e. is exam/test phobia a disease or condition? Surely, either way, it could be ‘cured’.

  8. EMDR and / or hypnosis can deal successfully with the problem
    I am a psychotherapist / hypnotherapist and deal on a regular basis with test / exam fears and phobias. There is no doubt that people can be greatly helped by this. I help people with exams, driving tests and presentations in addition to all kinds of other problems. Bob Foley mentioned the use of EMDR as a possible means of cure. It is an excellent method but there is no doubt it needs to be carried out by someone who is fully trained in the procedure or there is a danger of traumatising the individual and making it worse. For anybody interested in more discussion, please go to my website or email me on [email protected]

  9. Psychological advantages
    It has sparked a real debate both on the forum and in our offices.

    I also contacted a friend of mine in the USA who is a doctor of psychology sepcialising in coaching to achieve life goals. Her view, like the last writer, is that if there is a trauma caused phobia (and this seems to be the case with your 5 students) a psychological approach might be the way forward.

    The sort of behaviour described is self limiting, and often self-perception related. As such the success rate of changing that self limiting view is high. The big proviso here is who does it and also does the student want to do it.

    People adopt coping mechanisms for all sorts of reasons and often in examining the reasons for the coping mechanisms other issues emerge, thus the need for the pyschology professionals involvement.

    On a personal level I do believe these people are lucky to have found an IT tutor who cares enough to spend time on this aspect of their training, it is rare.

    There is an old Irish saying which translated roughly amounts to ‘when the time is right the person emerges to reveal the light’.

    I would be interested to hear of the outcome here as Robert is clearly not going to stop until he makes progress for them!

  10. Try finding an experienced NLP Practitioner
    NLP has a range of techniques that can assist people with everything from mild (but inappropriate) levels of exam nerves up to a full-blown phobia (uncontrollable physical response).

    An experienced practitioner can work with individuals to resolve these problems and free them up to perform to the best of their abilities.

  11. Tests
    I am not sure of the student levels you are talking about, but here asre a couple of things one thing I have found helpful with the nervous at examination times.
    1) Recognise who they are and if possible talk to each one before a test.
    2) Use an Open Book principle. Open book allows you to put certain questions that can be immediately sorted by the students, and often eases them into the more ‘menbtally exerted ‘sections.
    It puts their confidence up. Put in ‘choice questions’ or ‘which of these statements is correct’ and so on.
    I find that allowing 20-30% of the points in this manner gives the students a running start at the paper. Then when the section arrives where the open book really doesn’t help – i.e. application of principles, the presence of the books is still a comfort.
    I also agree with mock tests (where everyone knows they are just that).
    I think structuring the tests in this way might help – I know it has with my own students (BBA & MBA levels).
    And I HAVE had them in tears before an examination!
    May not work with everyone.

  12. Latest update!
    Hi all

    Just to update what’s been happening, to date, with the test phobias; all except one person I managed successfully to persuade them to attempt the ECDL module tests. To everyone, including themselves, surprises they passed the first attempt of spreadsheet Module 4, bearing in mind they were scared of sitting the test and furthermore they were scared of basic maths which didn’t help either, with 97 percent marks, one got 98 percent and one got one hundred percent.

    Did they smile after the test knowing they passed it with flying colours? They did. Do they now believe passing ECDL module tests is within their grasp? Perhaps one day said one of them. They are very sad people with negative attitudes, and like Dr Covey suggested in his ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ that I have managed to shift their paradigm but not all of them.

    I think I have to admit defeat with one of them, and I will have to abandon him with the agreement of the organisation.

    Upon discussing the matter with him, I now learn that he is the most negative and irrational person in the world that I have ever come across.

    It was agreed there was a currency in gaining the ECDL. However, he just wouldn’t and couldn’t sit the ECDL module tests. His reasoning is that why should he be put under pressure and time limit to sit (any) test. He doesn’t like to be pressurised and neither does he like to be timed. He explains that the moment he knows that he is put under time constraint he just couldn’t do the test. His hands sweat. He goes pale. He can’t think. His stomach churns. He feels like screaming or kicking the cat.

    I asked him what would he do when his boss ask him to carry out a task under time constraint because customer is waiting etc.? Oh, well, that is different said he. I find his reasoning and explanation do not make sense.

    Unless anyone out there has better ideas, as I have given up hope on him, I don’t think I can help this thoroughly negative person which would be a shame!


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