Help with Anxiety during Test-Taking
As parents, we may know a little thing or two about test-taking when we were younger and all the anxiety that comes with it. I can’t think of anyone who didn’t feel jittery or anxious the day of a major test, especially those that determined a grade, placement or entry into a major school or university. So, it is no surprise our kids, tweens and teens experience that same anxiety. And, for some kids who struggle in school or who have learning disabilities, the anxiousness is heightened even more.
Our experience as a student or your child’s experience may go a little something like this…
Today is the day. The five minute bell has rung for you to show up to your first class and you start to feel nervous the closer you walk to class. You feel like you have done everything you can to get you ready for this day. You made flashcards and practice tests to help you prepare for the huge test you are about to take.
You walk into the classroom just as the final bell is about to ring and you take your seat, pulling out your number two pencil. The teacher doesn’t call out roll this time, she wants the test to start as soon as possible, and she will mark down the absent ones while you are taking the exam.
Time seems to slow as she passes out the exams. She reiterates that there is to be no cheating. Her voice drones on over the rehearsed lines, even though her words have extreme consequences if one does cheat, which creates even more anxiety.
She finally hands you an exam and nods encouragement for you to begin. You write your name and date at the top of the paper. You look down to question one, multiple choice. You look over the question and decide to pick C, but you look one more time and decide to change it to A. Later after your test has been corrected you find out your first answer was correct.
Test anxiety, it’s a very real thing, but for some kids, taking tests, especially timed tests stresses them out so much they lose their appetite before an exam, they can’t stay focused during the exam or they may even skip whole sections or questions because they can’t recall what they’ve studied.
We all have anxiety to some degree, but kids who are overly anxious, have attention and focus issues or who have trouble reading and comprehending in a normal every-day setting, can become even more worried and out of sync when placed in stressful test-taking situations. Tests created to determine how students understand what they are learning under new Common Core standards like the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE), are making it more difficult for kids to prepare and be ready for exams. The anxiety is heightened that much more.
Help with Anxiety
So, what can we do as parents to help our anxious students be prepared and comfortable when taking tests? Depending on your child and how they learn we can do so many things to ensure the success of our child’s educational success. These suggestions may not be right for every child, but if your child is overly stressed or more anxious than other students, talk to your child’s teacher about allowing your child to try some of these methods for reducing anxiety, especially during timed-tests.
For kids who struggle with attention and focus outside of timed-tests, they still need to move to calm their system and their nerves. Talk with the teacher prior to the test to get permission for your child to do small exercises at their desk or out in the hall as a “break” to clear their head and calm their anxiousness from the test. Jumping Jacks or walking around the class before test-time can relax the mind and body.
Send your child with a stress ball or something they can fidget with during the test, especially if they have sensory issues. Your child can channel all the restless energy into the object, which will allow them to focus on the questions.
Good Night Sleep
A good night sleep for all children before a major test is essential, but even more so for kids who already struggle in class. You want to ensure your child gets a full eight hours of sleep before a test to help with anxiety. If that means eating dinner early or cutting off TV time, it’s a good price to pay for better results on his or her test. Plus, games and TV can be used as a reward for when the test is completed. If your child isn’t bothered by noise as they fall asleep, play calming music for them. Classical music is bested since it is geared toward rechanneling the brain for higher learning.
Deep Breathing Exercises
If you know your child will start showing signs of anxiety at any time before, during or after their test, teach them deep breathing exercises to calm the anxiousness. This is especially important during a test if they start to feel stressed. Teach your child to breathe in and hold their breath for five seconds, then release. They should repeat the exercise a few times. This allows oxygen to the brain and diaphragm to calm upset tummies and mental roadblocks that come with anxiety.
Kids need a full stomach that is ready for learning on test day. Not only does a hearty meal feed their brain the good nutrition they need, it allows them to stay focused through the exam without having attention and focus issues along with the anxiety. An empty tummy can trigger the mind to wander and for their focus to be off. Do not let your child eat sugary cereal before a test. This can cause even more anxiety and anxiousness during an exam.
What Your Child can Expect
You have already helped your child study for the test and they seem prepared, but if they tend to get anxiety easily, it’s equally important for us to prepare them for the test-taking process itself. Talk them through the process and what they can expect to help with anxiety. Let them know the teacher will give them instructions and that once the test has begun, they are being timed. Help them understand they don’t have to rush through the test because it is timed and they should continue reading the questions carefully before they fill in an answer. Before they head out the door, remind them of some of the coping methods above if they begin to feel anxiety during the test or if they hit a roadblock in the middle of the exam.
Noise-cancelling Head Phones
If your child is easily distracted by noises around them or can’t fully comprehend test questions unless it is completely silent, see if your child can bring ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones to help with anxiety. I know there were times that even I had to plug my ears during a test to fully comprehend the question. Ear plugs or head phones could help your child get through the test faster because they don’t have to read questions over and over again to get what it’s asking. This is especially important if they become anxious because they are sensitive to the noise of pencils moving or typing on the computer.
There are so many tests that students have to worry about from elementary school to college. With new placement exams like the Dibels and SAGE tests, or even regular ACTs, we’ve seen a growing number of students have greater anxiety about passing and not meeting his or her requirements. Some of these tests aren’t showing their true aptitude because they are required to speed through them so fast and then become even more stressed when they don’t measure up to their classmates and peers.
Not only should you watch and observe your child for heightened test anxiety, you should let your child’s teacher know about the test anxiety so they can help your child pass their tests. If your child is already a part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), they may have extra time to take the exam. However, if they don’t have this privilege, it is best to talk with the teacher to see what can be done to reduce the pressure of the test if your child is continually anxious.
Tests can determine a child’s educational future as they begin to prepare for college so the more they are prepared for tests when they are young, the more they are prepared for tests that determine whether they get a scholarship in college or get into the school of their choice.
As parents, we can help our children learn to not be afraid of tests and to be confident when they walk into whatever exam they are taking. It is just a matter of preparing them and finding ways to channel their anxiety to help them succeed.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs