As another school year gets underway, University of Chicago researchers found that altering the way students handle stress could mean better math grades.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Emotion, tested 73 undergraduates to further probe the topic of performance failure in math. For the first time, according to a University of Chicago press release, a link was found between working memory, math anxiety and salivary cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress.

The way some students handle the cortisol released during math tests, the study discovered, can affect whether or not he or she will receive a good grade.

The study found that students with low-working memories did not show much difference in their performance related to either cortisol production or math anxiety. This is because these students exert less mental effort to begin with, researchers said, so a stressful test did not hinder their performance.

The real difference came with students who had high-working memories. These students, who usually do well in school, either reacted negatively or positively to the produced cortisol from the stressful math test.

Students who were confident in their math abilities were able to effectively use their increased cortisol as a boost of sorts to do well in the test. For the students who had math anxiety, however, the added cortisol in their systems led them to do poorly on the test.

Researcher Sian Beilock said the results of the study show that a simple change in perspective could make all the difference in math anxiety and test performance for some students.

“Under stress, we have a variety of bodily reactions; how we interpret these reactions predicts whether we will choke or thrive under pressure,” Beilock said. “If a student interprets their physiological response as a sign they are about to fail, they will. And, when taking a math test, students anxious about math are likely to do this. But the same physiological response can also be linked to success if a student’s outlook is positive.”