Valemount Elementary school teacher Susan Prue (who has since retired) had a new tool to work with her class a few years ago after an experiment with her grade 5/6 class last year.

Sue Prue had been handing out multiplication quizzes to her students and noticed that some students seemed to be very anxious before the quiz. There are 50 questions in each quiz and three minutes to answer them. The quizzes increase in levels of difficulty after a student has successfully completed a level.

Ms. Prue said she had been trying different things to encourage her students to relax before the test especially since some of them were having difficulties with a timed test, even when they knew the answers orally. She tried brain gym, breathing exercises, encouraged the kids not to look at the clock (to reduce their anxiety) and so on with little success. Some of the students were still not getting past the basic levels. “They were studying and I was certain they were ready for their particular level,” said Ms. Prue.

Ms. Prue was almost ready to stop the multiplication quizzes as the testing situation was getting stressful for the students. She happened to mention the anxiety issue in the staffroom, when one of her colleagues told her about a rodeo trick where they get horses to sniff lavender to calm them down.

In January, Ms. Prue bought lavender essential oil and told her students they could take a whiff of lavender before testing for their next quiz. She kept it optional and told them there was a possibility of allergies and the students had a choice not to smell the lavender. All but two or three students chose to smell the lavender the first time. And Ms. Prue was pleasantly surprised with the test results. Most of the students had improved scores and one of her students had an “absolute breakthrough” and perfect scores since. Since the students have to be successful at the basic level of difficulty before moving on to the next level, she found that the test anxiety had been inhibiting some students from moving forward.

“The results were explosive,” said Ms. Prue. “The rate of improvement was remarkable since we started smelling lavender.”

Ms. Prue notes that not all have showed fabulous results after smelling lavender. “A few were still stuck,” she says. “Lavender doesn’t help with fact memorization. It helps with test anxiety.”

Soon all her previous 22 students were asking to smell lavender before a quiz or test with some jokingly calling it Ms. Prue’s hoodoo-voodoo!

Ms. Prue found that the experiment helped increase the confidence level of many students. She noticed that some of them developed a ‘’I can do it’ attitude. “They knew they had to study and their work ethics improved as well,” she said.

It is important to qualify that Ms. Prue’s attempt last year to help students with test anxiety was not a controlled experiment but an “interesting” experiment since the students were at different levels themselves. She would probably need a larger group for a formal study.

Of course, any good experiment can have its downside. Ms. Prue found students eagerly lining up to smell lavender and some of them coming up two and three times. She thought some of them were using it to delay sitting down to take the test. So coming up to smell was limited to twice!

Rashmi Narayan runs Infinity Office & Health, a health foods store in Valemount, and is interested in natural, simple and inexpensive solutions such as food and behavior / lifestyle to increase health and wellness.