Taking Control of Test Anxiety
When your child gets nervous about taking a test, it’s usually a good sign because it means that he or she wants to do well! But if your child feels sick, starts to panic, or shows any other signs of distress before taking a test, then he or she might have test anxiety.
Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, or stage fright. Besides triggering physical and emotional symptoms, test anxiety can impair one’s cognitive abilities, often lowering one’s performance. Since testing is a significant part of your child’s education, test anxiety is an important issue to tackle so your child can reach his or her full potential.
What Test Anxiety Really Means
Why is your child afraid of taking tests? Maybe he or she lacks confidence, feels unprepared, or struggles under pressure. But, anxiety isn’t always rational. In fact, its roots extend to one of our most basic instincts—fear.
When an event triggers the fight-or-flight response, one’s body prepares to face a threat by releasing adrenaline and boosting alertness. By the time a person realizes that the threat isn’t dangerous, the body has already reacted, so the person feels the stress response anyway. Because the body influences a person’s thoughts and vice versa, one has to relax both body and mind to calm down. To do this, find some techniques that help your child change his or her thought and behavior patterns.
Tips for Overcoming Test Anxiety
Reducing test anxiety takes practice. Try some of the following techniques to create a plan for your child to cope with test stress.
Prepare. Remind your child that tests don’t measure overall intelligence—they measure what he or she has learned. That’s why being prepared is so important! Review the material with your child until he or she feels good about it. This confidence can help him or her overcome irrational doubts and other negative emotions before and during the test.
Visualize success. Tell your child to envision what would happen if he or she felt confident during the test. How would it feel? What would happen? Just thinking about the end result can help children achieve their goals.
Practice study skills. Students need to employ effective study skills to prepare effectively for tests. Not knowing the right ways to learn and retain information can certainly cause or intensify a student’s test anxiety. Check out our study tips for taking notes and using different learning materials to learn more.
Discuss it or write about it. Part of dealing with test anxiety is learning how to open up about it. Encourage your child to talk to you or spend some time journaling. The act of expression can relieve stress and help your child work through his or her emotions.
Practice taking tests. One way to overcome a fear is to do the thing that is feared—over and over. Parents, Learning Coaches, and teachers can create a variety of practice quizzes for students to take and get used to the process. Realizing that the process gets easier and that the material eventually becomes more familiar can also boost a student’s confidence.
Get comfortable. Ask the teacher where your student will be testing, and then talk with your child about what to expect. Encourage your child to find other ways to improve the testing experience, like wearing a favorite outfit.
Routine. Creating and following a testing routine can make the process much more comfortable. Knowing exactly what your child will do to prepare, from getting a good night’s sleep to eating a healthy breakfast, can help him or her prepare mentally. Also, don’t forget to establish a routine for the long and rigorous state testing week.
Get excited! Recent research on performance anxiety suggests that telling oneself to get excited is more effective than telling oneself to stay calm. Taking a test isn’t something that most people get excited about, of course—so, help your child find something positive to focus on. Otherwise, just ask him or her to pretend to be excited, which often tricks the brain into feeling the real thing.
Relax. To relax properly before and during the test, your child needs to have a strategy. Taking deep breaths and stretching his or her neck and shoulders are just a couple of ways to make the body resist the fight-or-flight response.
Use self-talk. Positive self-talk is a powerful technique. Help your child choose a couple of phrases—such as “I can do this!”—to repeat silently when he or she starts to feel anxious.
Work smarter, not harder. Make every test easier for your child by finding the right approach. Suggest that instead of panicking over a confusing question, your child should skip it and return to it later. Encourage your child to skim the test before starting and then to do the easy problems first. Remember, your child should always read the directions carefully and check his or her work.
Try multiple techniques. Testing one or two of the above techniques isn’t enough. Encourage your child to try all of them, until he or she finds the ones that work best. Remember, seeing improvement takes time, so be patient.
Last, don’t forget to talk with your child’s school counselor for further advice.
Do you have any other tips for overcoming test anxiety? Let us know!