Test anxiety is one of the most inhibiting fears kids (and adults) have. It gets in the way of their concentration, keeps them from scoring as high as they should on important exams and assessments, and creates a general feeling of apprehension. For some, it is just a passing feeling of nervousness. For others, it is debilitating and causes anxiety attacks, and may even be accompanied or evolve into generalized anxiety disorder, or phobias regarding tests.
How can you help your child or young person cope? Below are five strategies that might help.
Strategies for Coping
1. Use Psychology: At the most basic level, you know the tests are important. But, since this may be one reason for the extreme anxiety in some, it is important to also relax your child by stating that the test is not the gateway to their life. Even if it is the ACT and it will determine whether or not they get into the schools they want to attend, if they view a particular test as the most important thing they will ever do, their anxiety may overwhelm them. So play down the assessment when you can and just tell them to do the best they can.
2. Prepare Them: Just like you want to decrease the importance in some cases, you also want to prepare them for it. If they understand the types of questions they’ll be asked, how long they will have to complete the exams, and what the content will likely entail, they will be more mentally ready to handle it.
Teachers can do this by giving them practice tests or they may practice tests online with the various test administration websites. Parents can prepare them by encouraging them, having them practice, and do their best in school. The best way to prepare is to know the material and they do that by understanding and being able to apply school concepts.
3. Teach Relaxation Techniques: Counselors use various relaxation techniques to get their clients with anxiety disorders to tone down when they are nervous. Parents can help kids by teaching them to do some of the things counselors teach to reduce anxiety, such as taking deep breaths, imagining a beautiful scene (visualization), and other means.
4. Give Rewards for Excellent Efforts and Results, but Focus on Efforts: Applying behavioral psychology to the testing situation, you can reward students who score well to reinforce their good work. But don’t forget to put the most emphasis on effort too. By communicating that effort is the most important thing, they will relax more in the testing situation the next time.
5. Be Supportive and Focus on Healthy Habits: As a parent, the most important thing is to be supportive of your young person, no matter what they do. If you can be there for them, no matter how they do on the tests, they will realize you are there for them no matter what and may perform better. Students who have a strong support group not only do better on standardized assessments, but also tend to be better adjusted in a variety of ways.
There are a lot of pressures kids experience nowadays: bullying, making friends, and getting good grades, just to name a few. Test anxiety can make them apprehensive and this anxiety can also blend over into other aspects of their academic and social lives both at school and at home.
By being the most supportive parent you can, providing ways to boost their confidence, and telling them the test is not the most important thing in the world, they may relax a bit about it, and ironically, may get better results. The truth is someone can only do the best that they can do and no more. As long as they understand this, do their best in school, and try their best, what more can we ask?