Reduce Test Stress

It is natural for children to feel nervous before a test, but some teens get so anxious prior to testing that it impacts their health, attitude, and grades. Due to the increasing emphasis on standardized testing, test anxiety is becoming more common, and it can impact anyone, even students that usually get good grades.

There are definitely signs to look for that indicate whether your adolescent is experiencing test anxiety:

  • Doesn’t want to go to school (or acts sick) on test day
  • Won’t complete homework assignments in the few days leading to the test
  • Puts himself or herself down or calls himself or herself “stupid”
  • Has an upset stomach or headache before a test
  • Performs well on practice tests, papers or projects, but not on the real test

Here are suggestions for parents to help their child overcome test anxiety:

Don’t add to the problem. Parents can unintentionally add more stress to their teens by talking frequently about tests and sending the message that they measure their child’s worth in terms of grades and test scores. Remind yourself that your child’s future does not hinge on each particular test they are about to take. Take time to praise your teen for accomplishments other than test scores and grades, such as arts, sports, character traits, and relationships.

Success does not equal good test-taker. Tell your teen about successful people who were not good test-takers. Use examples in your family and community.
Don’t expect all kids to excel equally. Every kid is different, even those that are raised by the same parents. You may have one child who performs well on tests without much preparation, while the other struggles just for an average score with lots of preparation. Avoid making comparisons or heaping lots of praise on the good test-taker.

Help your child with study skills. Inform teens of proper studying basics, such as: reducing distractions; taking notes as they’re reading a chapter; summarizing what they’ve read in their own words; making their own flashcards for quick review of dates, formulas, and other facts; highlighting notes in different colors to organize information; developing acronyms to help remember facts; and reviewing for a test the week prior.

Do not cram. A new study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has shown that sacrificing sleep to cram for extra study time is counterproductive. Teens that pull all-nighters score lower on tests than those who study less but get a good night’s sleep. The UCLA researchers were quick to say they were not suggesting teens study less, as other research has confirmed that youth who study more tend to earn higher grades. The key is in time management. Parents should encourage teens to study or read one hour a day – a good habit that will prevent cramming and help your teen throughout their education.

Teach test-taking strategies. When a test-taker reads a question and doesn’t know the answer, they can panic if they don’t have a strategy. In multiple choice tests, remind your teen to eliminate the responses he/she knows are incorrect first, and then see if one of the remaining answers seems right. In math tests, encourage them to skip questions they really don’t know – rather than spend a lot of time on them – and come back at the end of the test. If it’s a reading comprehension test, advise them to read the entire excerpt, read the questions, and then read the excerpt again before answering the questions.

Be healthy. Many schools will advise parents before standardized tests to make sure their child gets enough sleep and eats a healthy breakfast. Although that’s good advice, we would suggest that this should become a standard in your house. Youth will feel better and perform better at everything they do if they consistently eat healthy meals, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep.

Final thoughts…

By teaching your adolescent strategies for handling their anxiety, you will not only help their test scores, but give them the skills to handle the challenges and obstacles of life.

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