Test Anxiety Tips

Nancy Honey/Getty Images

 Does your child or teen worry during tests?  Do they feel pressured or do they underperform compared to their real ability on tests?  Test anxiety is a common phenomena, and one that often contributes to poor test scores.  Knowing how to overcome test anxiety is an important skill for success.  Tests feature prominently in modern life, from summative assessment tests, standardized tests, driver's license tests, college admissions tests, and tests for professional licenses.

 By working with your school age student now, you can help them for all of the tests they will encounter later on in life.

Test Anxiety symptoms include racing pulse, a sense of panic, nausea, tense muscles, and shallow, fast breathing.  It really is anxiety that is experienced during test taking or when you think about a test.  The problem with test anxiety is that people do not think as clearly when they are anxious - their thoughts are distracted, focused in on their fears rather than problem solving or the memory recall needed for a test.  

Before The Test:

  • Become familiar with the material on the test.  Regular school attendance combined with regular school work completion is critical in this regard.  Learning the material will create confidence, as your child or teen will know that they understand the material on the test.
  • Make sure your child or teen is familiar with the testing format.  Is it a paper and pencil test or computer based?  Is it possible to go back and change answers after you have completed a question but before you submit the test?  What types of test questions are there?  Taking practice tests can help relieve anxiety since the testee will know what to expect.
  • Have a test day game plan.  Make sure your child gets to bed early, already knows what they will wear, plan a great breakfast for that morning, and plan to arrive to the exam site early.

During The Test:

  • One strategy for older children and teens is called the "memory dump".  As soon as they receive their test, they write down any information they are afraid they will forget.  For example, if they just received their math exam, they would quickly write any formulas on top that they are worried they will forget.  This relieves anxiety since they will not worry about whether or not they remember it while trying to solve problems - they have already written it down.
  • Flip the test over or stop looking at the computer screen for a moment.  Sometimes just a brief interrupt of the test will bring back a sense of calm in a test taker.
  • Use relaxing strategies throughout the test.  It is best to practice these before the exam, so that your child or teen is familiar with them and will know how and when to use them during the exam.  You can share these strategies with your child or teen during the studying and homework assignments leading up to the exams.
    • Belly Breathing - This well known stress relief technique involves taking slow, deep breaths.  Breath in slowly and try to have the air go all the way down into the belly area or abdomen, slowly filling up to the top of the lungs.  Then slowly exhale the air.  You can do a self check to make sure you are breathing deep enough by placing your arm over your chest - if the chest rises when inhaling, the breathing is not deep enough. Only the abdomen should rise.  Take at least 4 seconds to inhale, and at least 4 seconds for each exhale.  Belly breathing for even three breaths can slow down heart rate and rapid breathing dramatically, helping to reduce test anxiety symptoms.
    • Visualization techniques can be combined with the paper flip if anxiety has become so high they cannot focus on their exam.  The testee can flip over their paper or stop looking at their test.  They then close their eyes and imagine being in a restful peaceful place.  This could be relaxing on a quiet beach with ocean wave sounds, or perhaps resting in an open field on a warm day watching the clouds go by. The anxiety and stress response in the body responds to thoughts. By taking a break from the test and remembering calm, peaceful situations, the testee can produce a calming effect on themselves.  Once they become calm, they can return to the test able to think more clearly.

    Continue Reading