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5 Ways to Help Your Child Mange Test-Taking Anxiety

It’s normal for students to feel nervous before or during a test. But sometimes, test time can cause symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, or difficulty concentrating. When this happens, there may be something more serious going on – test anxiety. Test anxiety is defined as “a physiological condition in which people experience extreme stress, anxiety, and discomfort during or before taking a test.”

In the United States, an estimated 25% – 40% of students experience test anxiety. And certain tests can be more anxiety-inducing than others. Research shows that elementary school students experience higher levels of test anxiety during standardized tests compared to regular classroom assessments.

If you suspect that your child is one of the many struggling with test anxiety, here are five ways you can help your child manage it.

1. Ask questions to clarify. Often, the process of saying their worries out loud helps children work through their feelings. Understanding what triggers your child’s anxiety can help you develop strategies to address it. Questions you can ask: 

  • How do you feel when you first see the test?
  • What’s your biggest worry about taking the test?
  • Do you feel worried when you think about a test or only when you see the test?

 2. Teach test-taking basics. Young children have little experience taking tests. They may feel more confident just by talking through basic test-taking strategies such as reading the directions, asking questions if they don’t understand something, looking for questions they know how to answer right away, coming back to tricky questions, and double checking their work.

 3. Talk to the teacher. If you have concerns about your child, talk to their teacher. The teacher might be able to implement simple solutions to address the issue. For example, your child might feel anxious when looking around and seeing other students working quickly. The teacher could seat your child in the front of the room or give your child a privacy shield to help limit distractions.

 4. Teach relaxation techniques. Children tend to have active imaginations, so practice visualization exercises with your child. For example, have your child close their eyes and picture a place that makes them confident, happy, and relaxed. Encourage your child to share details with you about this calming place and prompt them to take deep breaths. Then, on test day, remind your child to imagine this calming place and take deep breaths when they are feeling anxious.

5. Foster confidence. Test anxiety can be a confidence deflater for children. Instead of focusing on the actual test, help your child find their inner strength in other ways. For example, increasing free play outside can be a confidence booster. Children often challenge themselves and work through fears in the context of play.

Most children feel better once a test is over, but that’s not the case for everyone. If your child’s anxiety persists, it might be a good idea to take them to see their pediatrician. St. Luke’s Penn Foundation can also help.