When your child is nervous before a big test, this is a sign that their body is preparing for something important. A little flutter in the tummy or general concern is normal. It can even help the test-taker to better prepare and focus. But test anxiety takes it to the next level and isn’t so helpful. In fact, anxiety can be so bad that it hinders a student’s ability to do their best. Here’s how to reduce test anxiety the next time it happens:
First of all, what is test anxiety?
Every child is different. Ahead of a big test or exam, here are common ways a student indicates anxiety:
- Sleepless nights beforehand.
- Feelings of dread.
- Their mind goes blank.
- Sweaty palms.
- Upset stomach.
- Distracted thoughts.
- Unable to concentrate.
- Abnormally fast heart rate.
Why do students experience anxiety before tests?
Students experience these symptoms for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’re afraid they will fail. Maybe they’ve had a few bad testing experiences and are worried this trend will continue. Some students don’t prepare ahead of time and are naturally concerned they won’t do well.
Studies from the ADAA cover lots of ways anxiety starts and grows through elementary and beyond.
To reduce test anxiety, students should:
Prepare ahead of time.
Students generally feel better about tests if they’ve studied or otherwise planned properly. Encourage your child to join study groups and take advantage of any extra help the teacher offers. For a week or so, this might mean arriving early at school, staying later and meeting during lunch.
Learn proper study habits.
Many schools offer classes or workshops around test-taking strategies. They cover how to take notes during class and what to review each evening. This often includes study habits that allow kids to more easily recall information during exams.
Review lessons in certain classes on a daily basis. This is beneficial, even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day. Consistent reviewing helps cement knowledge more than cramming the night before a test.
Build solid pretest habits.
No one knows your children the way that you do. What works for them? Some kids need to explain lessons out loud to others in order to really learn it themselves. Others do well with flash cards or rote memorization. Tutors and more prep time are available from after-school programs. You decide what works and make sure they stick to it.
Students who create mantras (such as “I’m doing my best” or “This is going to be just fine”) report feeling better after just a few minutes. They repeat these mantras silently whenever they feel test anxiety coming on. This includes before and during exams.
Plan to get your children to the test or test site early. As a result, any anxiety over feeling rushed is eliminated.
Communicate with teachers.
Students should know ahead of time the material to study. Encourage older students to talk to teachers if they’re confused. Even the toughest educators want to know which students are concerned, nervous or in need of extra help. Self-advocating is an important skill for adolescents to learn. Teachers are often willing to go the extra mile for students who show an interest in doing well.
Learn how to relax.
Students can do a lot to help themselves calm down. This works the day or night before, but it also works right before the test begins. For example, students can meditate, relax muscles, practice breathing exercises or engage in positive visualization. These simple exercises also increase confidence.
Eat and drink well.
Breakfast should be a daily routine for students, especially on important days when they have to take tests. Avoid sugar, artificial flavors and processed ingredients. Older kids should avoid caffeinated beverages or coffee. Caffeine makes nervous students even more anxiety-ridden. Include plenty of water with each meal as well.
Get up and moving.
Physical exercise, especially the morning of a test, will relieve unwanted tension. This includes aerobic workouts, yoga or even just a walk around the block. If your child arrives early to a test, they can spend ten minutes walking outside before it begins. Remind your student to breathe and move their body from time to time during the test, too. This can include rolling their shoulders, stretching legs, or getting up to use the bathroom.
Like breakfast and exercise, solid sleep should be a part of every student’s daily routine. Sleep is especially vital the night before a big test. Make sure your child rests between 7-10 hours.
Take advantage of testing accommodations.
Every student has the ability to learn. However, some students need accommodations to properly show what they’ve learned. Watch for early signs in elementary school that indicate a need for such accommodations. Special learners are legally entitled to extra time for tests, having questions read out loud, separate testing areas to limit distractions and so much more.
Contact a mental health counselor.
Therapists help students work through their worries. Test anxiety sometimes lessens as students better understand how and why they feel it.
Read directions and questions.
Slowly reading through the test helps students focus from the very beginning. Students must practice ignoring any and all distractions. Encourage them to disregard what other students are or are not doing. Bring earplugs to help block out noise.
Be mindful of the time.
Students should look over the test when it’s handed out. Then think about how many minutes to spend in each section. Some students create quick outlines on a blank sheet of paper to feel more in control of the process.
Center themselves the morning of the test.
Encourage your student to visualize how they want to experience the day ahead. They can close their eyes and picture the test going well. They can also give themselves a silent pep talk.
Take practice tests.
In the weeks leading up to a big test, practice exams and quizzes improve test-taking skills. Practicing also allows students and teachers to review weaknesses. This helps students feel better prepared.
These are all ways to reduce test anxiety, allowing students to better show what they’ve learned and feel better at the same time.