Help With School Test Anxiety

Simple Changes to Help Kids Cope With Dreading Tests

“I studied really hard, but I don’t know what happened. My mind blanked”.

Does this sound familiar? Many children suffer from test-taking anxiety causing them to under perform on tests. Test anxiety is the uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness felt by students who fear poor academic performance. Common symptoms of test anxiety include: sweating, dizziness, headaches, racing heartbeats and/or nausea. These physical symptoms can result in the inability to: concentrate; understand what is read; organize ones thoughts in order to answer the questions and/or; remember and retrieve the material studied.

Test anxiety can be seen in both underprepared students as well as over-prepared perfectionists. A certain amount of adrenalin is necessary to completing a task well. Too little will result in poor concentration and initiative. While too much can act as a hindrance causing one to feel nervous or frightened, rather than confident and in control. Succeeding on a test requires a mid-level amount of adrenalin, which to most people means the lowering of raised anxiety and stress levels.

If you think that your child suffers from test anxiety, don’t fret. Simple changes to their behaviour before and during a test can help them better cope with their stress. Below, I’ve listed the most common strategies used to manage test-anxiety. Bear in mind, what works for one person may not for the next.

Before the test:

Make sure to organize study notes.

Review and practice class material until confident.

Get a good night’s sleep the night before the test.

Arrive at test location a bit early.

Take deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth) and visualize answering the questions correctly and with confidence.

Avoid reviewing the material with other anxiety-filled students.

During the test:

Write down key information that might be forgotten (e.g. formulas, dates, etc.,).

Take a moment to skim through the test to get a feel for the type and quantity of questions.

Highlight or reread the question. Ensure you understand all of the parts of the question you are required to address in your answer.

Take a moment to formulate your thoughts before answering the question.

If unsure of how to answer a question, relax and move on to a question you feel confident answering.

Take deep breaths if you feel stressed over how to answer a question or the amount of time remaining in the test.

Combat negative and self-defeating thoughts with positive self-talk. Repeat “I can do this” or “I know how to answer this question”.

Don’t rush. Bonus points are not given to students who hand their test in early.

Critically review the test before handing it in. Ensure that all parts of the questions were answered and careless errors were not made.

If your child continues to struggle with test anxiety and the techniques above have not worked for them, make sure to schedule an appointment with their teacher. It is usually possible to have accommodations made to the test-taking environment (a quiet workspace, increased time to write the test, verbal instead of written test etc.,) so that your child can effectively demonstrate everything they do know.

Julia Weisz is soon-to-be mother (December 2011!) with a lot on the go. She is a full-time Elementary Teacher, specializing in Special Education with the Toronto District School Board. In addition, she and her husband founded and run a Toronto based, in-home tutoring company called Next Step Tutoring. Check out their company’s Facebook page.