These days, with testing being increasingly prevalent in most school systems throughout the U.S., children face a lot of pressure to perform. It is normal to have some stress and nervousness when it comes to taking an assessment; however, some children experience testing anxiety that is much more extreme than just being nervous. The fear they experience can be paralyzing in nature. It can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches. This level of anxiety can occur for many reasons.
Children who lack confidence in themselves are more prone to test anxiety. A child who struggles with confidence may believe they will do poorly on an exam regardless of their preparation for it. This allows tension to build, and when it comes time to take the exam, the child is unable to focus and think clearly. If the child does poorly on the test, it reinforces their feelings of inadequacy and, thus, the level of anxiety the next time a test comes around. This can occur with all assessments a child takes or only in a particular subject where the child feels they don’t excel.
When facing a timed test, children who take longer to process information can experience test anxiety as well. Upon receiving the test, they may become overwhelmed, thinking they won’t finish the test in time. Even fear of being the last person to complete a test, timed or not, can cause self-conscious children anxiety.
Whatever the reason for the anxiety, it can be difficult for parents to know how to help. So I’ve gathered a few tips for parents whose children suffer from test anxiety that you may find helpful.
Ask Questions & Remain Positive
Talk with your child about upcoming tests with a positive mindset. Try to determine what about the test is causing anxiety rather than making an assumption. Perhaps they are worried about the subject area, the format of the test, or even fear of falling behind their peers. By understanding the nature of the anxiety, you can better prepare them with specific coping strategies.
Have reasonable expectations for your child’s performance on tests. Reassure your child that tests are not the only way to measure academic achievement and that their results on a test do not determine their worth. Encourage them to do their best, get a good night’s sleep, and eat healthy meals.
Review Basic Test-Taking Strategies
Empower your child by ensuring they have a firm grasp on basic test-taking strategies. Remind them to read directions carefully and take their time. They’re allowed to ask questions about the instructions when they are unsure. Teach them to identify questions they can answer immediately, and skip over difficult questions until they’ve completed all of the easier ones, and eliminating potential answers on multiple-choice tests.
Help Them Prepare
Find out what format the test will take. Help your child plan ahead and schedule out time to review the material. Ask your child what questions they think will be on the test. Take practice tests when available, or have your child make up their own test. Have your child reorganize their notes and outline the main points of what they’ve been studying in class.
We all have an inner voice that can be rather judgemental at times. Teach your child to reframe negative thoughts and “talk back” to that voice. Teach your child to view testing with a positive mindset -” it’s a way to demonstrate what you’ve learned,” or “it’s a challenge, and you’re up to the task.”
Teaching your child some basic relaxation strategies such as deep breathing can go a long way in helping them remain calm during the test. Give your child tips on grounding techniques, closing their eyes, focusing on one sensory detail at a time while taking deep breaths. Have your child imagine themselves doing well on the test – visualization can lead to actualization. Some children find comfort in routines, like an athlete’s pre-game ritual, so help them come up with their own ritual for test-taking.
Conquering test anxiety can be challenging, but you can do quite a bit to help your child overcome their worries and fears by working with them. Let your child know you support them and give them the appropriate tools and techniques for managing their anxiety.
Dr. Edward S. Thalheimer is the President and Founder of The Tutoring Franchise Corp. If you would like further information about how to help children who need educational assistance, please go to www.tutoringcenter.com.