After months of learning and weeks of revision, your children’s exams are underway. An upcoming test or exam can be a stressful time for any student. Does your grade-schooler get overly stressed on test days? No matter how well she revised the lessons, but when the day of the test comes, she will suddenly blank out, freeze up, or feel so nervous that she can’t get it together to respond to those questions she knew the answers to just last night? That’s why we have a saying “an ounce of luck is better than a pound of wisdom”.
If this sounds like your child, she may have a case of test anxiety — that nervous feeling that people sometimes get when they’re about to take a test.
Many students experience some amount of stress and anxiety before and during exams. However, test anxiety is more severe, and can actually impair learning and hurt test performance.
Because of this, it’s important to know how to identify test anxiety in your child so he or she can learn how to deal with it.
In this article, we will introduce what is test anxiety, how it affects students, and provide some basic tips for parents to help your child feel more at ease with test-taking.
What is test anxiety?
Test anxiety is actually a type of performance anxiety – a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure’s on to do well. For example, a person might have performance anxiety just before trying out for the school play, singing a solo on stage, getting into position at the pitcher’s mound, stepping onto the platform in a diving meet, or going into an important interview.
Why Do Kids Get Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is brought on when students are overwhelmed by the fear that they won’t do well on an exam. These kids are usually anxious to begin with and tend to focus on all the bad things that could go wrong in any given situation. Test anxiety is common in kids with learning disabilities and also in students who are perfectionists. We also see test anxiety in those students who base their worth on how well they score on a test. They put so much pressure on themselves to perform that sometimes they end up psyching themselves out.
What Are Some Symptoms of Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety can affect students physically, cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Like other situations in which a person might feel performance anxiety, test anxiety can bring on “butterflies,” a stomachache, or a headache. Some people might feel shaky or sweaty, or feel their heart beating quickly as they wait for the test to be given out. A student with really strong test anxiety may even feel like she might pass out or throw up. There are a myriad of symptoms and test anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. Here are some common symptoms:
- Freezing or “going blank” during tests
- Worrying about forgetting material while studying
- Feeling like she has never done enough to prepare
- A feeling of doom or fear of failure during tests or exams
- Difficulty concentrating while studying for upcoming tests
- Performing well in class or on homework, but failing to do well when tested
- A lack of confidence
- Physical symptoms before a test: test anxiety can result in physical symptoms, including a racing heartbeat, headache, lightheadedness, and even nausea. Your child may complain of an upset stomach or any of these other symptoms leading up to a test.
For students who struggle with test anxiety, a bit of pre-exam nervousness turns into debilitating feelings of worry, dread, and fear, which can negatively impact performance.
Students can struggle with test anxiety at any age. For many students, test anxiety rises sharply in students in Grades 2 to 4 and remains high as they move through middle school and high school.
How to help your child minimize test anxiety
In the context of these systemic and long-term issues, parents can intervene to reduce test anxiety for young children in the following ways:
1. Teach test-taking basics
Young children have very little experience taking tests. Kids may feel empowered simply by talking through basic strategies, such as reading the directions, asking questions about the directions, looking for questions they know they can answer right away, and passing over tricky questions for a moment. Preparing students to take tests effectively also includes teaching them about test structures — question formats, the rationale of scoring schemes, and common pitfalls with different question types.
Here are there simple and concrete test-taking strategies parents can give their kids to calm their nerves on test day:
- Do the easy questions first: Teach your child to go through the test and tackle the simple questions first. Students who do this won’t panic when their classmates sitting around them keep turning pages, and they don’t question whether everyone else is ahead of them because they’ve already given themselves a really quick win.
- Don’t fret over the hard questions: Once the simple ones are out of the way, there will still be those questions that seem impossible to answer. Some kids guess the most reasonable answer and move on. Others fret and waste all of their testing stamina on that question, the rest of the test seems like endless torture. Kids need to expect a few setbacks. They’re normal. Let your child know no one else knows all the answers either and that’s OK.
- Sniff the flower, blow out the candle: Ever tell your child to take a deep breath and it sounds like they’re hyperventilating? It may be useful to teach them how to practice deep breathing because it can counter stress, according to research. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to calm the body.
2. Reduce anxiety through practice tests
If a teacher is willing to offer practice tests, encourage your child to take them. If not, review her previous quizzes and tests, and go over the formats together. Discuss what your child finds confusing about a format and what might make it clearer for her. Doing a practice test can also let your child learn how to pace herself during the actual test. Feeling anxious can make some kids race through. Help her keep track of how long it takes to get through the test leaving enough time to think about and answer each question and review the answers.
3. Avoid the sudden panic by creating a schedule
It can be stressful for your child – and you – to suddenly realize there’s an exam the next day. By knowing when each test or quiz is scheduled, you can help your middle-schooler get ready in an organized way. At the start of each month or marking period, ask your child to find out from her teachers the dates of quizzes and tests. Then mark the dates on a monthly calendar. Keep track together when each quiz or test is coming up. Consider creating a homework station, too. Having an organized, consistent study space may help your child feel more at ease with studying and preparing for tests.
4. Take care of your child’s mental and physical health
Following on from the study and exam calendar, included in this structure should also be time for rest, non-study related activity, and sleep. As a parent, you can help reduce your child’s mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion when she is under pressure to perform well. Going for a walk, continuing sports activities, reading a book, or watching a movie can provide a positive release of built-up stress. Some simple exercises that we suggest parents teach their kids, and be a role model themselves:
- Do gentle exercises such as taking a quick walk, cycling, swimming, or yoga
- Gentle exercise increases blood flow to the brain, assists with lowering anxiety levels, and reduces physical tension that can cause aches and pains.
- Deep breathing, getting 8 hours of sleep per night, and meditation all help maintain our emotional health.
5. Fuel your child’s brain and avoid trigger foods
With all the energy dissipating during exam time, ensuring healthy eating practices is essential too. Lower the intake of carbs, sugar, caffeine and aim for more proteins, and fresh vegetables and fruit, to optimize concentration and general wellbeing:
- Eat lean protein (e.g. chicken, fish & eggs…) with carbohydrates that release their energy slowly (e.g. oats, brown rice & green vegetables…)
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. They stimulate the central nervous system and heighten our emotions, leading to greater anxiety.
- If your kids want something sweet, choose dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa. It helps fight cortisol – the stress hormone – has a relaxing effect on our body and releases endorphins, a natural stress fighter.
>> Find our more brain-boosting food for your child at: https://blog.e2.com.vn/brain-boosting-food-for-your-child/
6. Bolster confidence
Some kids resort to negative self-talk when faced with test anxiety. They tell themselves things like “I’m such a failure” or “I’m not smart enough to pass this test.” Soon they start to believe these negative statements and before you know it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They fail the test. Giving honest and specific praise can remind your child that she can have success no matter what the outcome of the test. Success doesn’t have to mean a perfect score. Just doing a good job of preparing is already a win. So if you notice she’s working hard on preparing for a test, let her know. Hearing this can help her approach tests with more confidence. Praise her efforts on daily homework and activities outside of school, too. This can help her remember past successes when she’s feeling anxious.
> Parents can also take a look at The Simple Technique to Raise Confident Kids – shared by Tony Ngo – our Chairman and Co-founder of Everest Education.
7. Debrief after tests
Talking to your child about how she handled tests can help her feel more in control. After a test, ask her how it went. Did she feel prepared? Was there anything she wishes she’d studied more or harder? Parents can also talk about this when your child gets the graded test back. This can help her learn to make her own decisions about how to prepare for tests in the future: “Before the unit test, I should practice using my vocabulary words in a sentence.” Taking action can help her feel more in control of the situation. And that could reduce test anxiety going forward.
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