Tips for Tackling Test Anxiety

Most people feel nervous when it comes to writing a test or an exam. A certain level of anxiety is good – it helps us to perform at our best. But when the anxiety or distress is so severe that it significantly interferes with your child’s ability to take a test, this is referred to as test anxiety.

Test anxiety (or performance anxiety) is extremely common and is often overlooked by parents and teachers alike. So, what exactly is it?

Test anxiety is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences extreme distress in a testing situation, so much so that it impairs test performance.

The experience of test anxiety differs from child to child. The best way to understand your child’s unique experience is to talk to them about it. Ask them in a calm and casual way how they feel before, during, and after writing a test.

A few of the common signs and symptoms that you can listen or watch out for include:

  1. Physical symptoms such as headaches, excessive sweating, nausea or diarrhoea, dry mouth, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat.
  2. Emotional signs such as extreme feelings of anger, fear, or disappointment, or uncontrollable crying.
  3. Behavioural signs such as avoidance (pretending to be sick or skipping school) and substance abuse.
  4. Cognitive symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or remembering information, and negative self-talk.

There are many ways to help your child overcome test anxiety.

  1. It all starts with preparing them for taking a test. We’re so used to testing situations that we forget we had to learn how to take a test in the first place. Help your child to understand different types of questions they may be asked. Remind them that they can answer easy questions first and return to the harder ones later. Reinforce the idea of double-checking questions and answers at the end.
  2. Create a study schedule. This can reduce anxiety by setting up a routine and breaking large chunks of work into smaller, more manageable ones.
  3. Every child will study in a different way. Do some research on different study techniques and try each one out with your child until you find the way that works best.
  4. Teach basic relaxation techniques. Visualisation exercises, breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation are great relaxation techniques to use. Regular exercise and sufficient sleep go a long way in reducing anxiety as well.
  5. Encourage positive self-talk. You can teach your child to replace negative thoughts like “I’m a failure” or “I can’t do this” with positive thoughts such as “I have prepared for this” or “I can do this”. Simple, yet effective.
  6. Praise your child’s effort rather than their results. Reassure them (and yourself) that it’s not the end of the world if they fail a test and that you are proud of them no matter what. Remind them of their strengths and help them to understand and cope with their weaknesses.

Test anxiety can be overwhelming for children because they simply do not understand it. But, if taught how to cope with it, they can build up their confidence and test-taking abilities over time.