Tackling Test Anxiety

Photo of a hand completing a multiple choice test

Cropped image. Alberto G, Flickr. CC License.

Spring is here, along with the rounds of college entrance and advanced placement exams. For school-age children, the M-STEP testing is coming up soon. Most of us hope our children will do well, but for some families there is an extra layer of worry: their children suffer from “test anxiety”.

“I studied and I knew the material. But as soon as I started looking at the questions, I felt nervous and sweaty. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember much of what I’d learned. I just started guessing. I did horribly on the exam and now I’m angry and sad.”

What exactly is test anxiety? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes test anxiety as a type of performance anxiety.

There are several reasons for test anxiety.

  • Students who had previous negative experiences with test-taking may develop worry in anticipation of the test.
  • Another common reason is poor preparation. Students who struggle to get organized and/or manage their time wisely will be challenged to prepare adequately.
  • Fear of failure also contributes – thinking that our self-worth is wrapped up in that grade causes extra tension and stress. This is a double-bind, because all that worry and fear inhibit the ability to set up a structured plan and prepare effectively.

Luckily there are a variety of tips and tricks for managing test anxiety, including these from the ADAA:

  • Be prepared. Be aware of when tests are happening and study in smaller increments over time rather than pulling all-nighters or “cramming”.
  • Be a good test-taker. Read all the directions carefully. Complete questions you know first, and then go back to harder ones. Outline essay answers.
  • Stay positive. Your self-worth is not dependent on a test grade. Reward yourself for staying on track with study goals. Some anxiety is normal and natural, expect it and let it be there. Let anxious thoughts come and go, but stay focused on the task of studying or taking the test.
  • Stay focused. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; focus on the test in front of you. Avoid talking to others about the material before the exam.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Taking slow, deep breaths and consciously relaxing your muscles one at a time can help energize you and sharpen your focus.
  • Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods. Exhaustion and fatigue do not good test-takers make.
  • Get help. If needed, your school counselor or college counseling center can help with needed resources. Sometimes special accommodations are needed, but most of the time, test anxiety can be managed effectively by following these guidelines.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

1 Response to “Tackling Test Anxiety”


  1. 1 Anonymous April 7, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Great article…lots of nice tips! It is a stressful time for kids, for sure. Thank you!


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