Six Ways to Ease Test Anxiety
Does your child seem to experience a lot of unexplained stomachaches? This may be due to test anxiety. I read about a young student who was complaining of stomachaches every Monday morning. The parents believed the child just didn’t want to return to school after the weekend. It turned out that Monday mornings were when students were given a timed math test. The child was not making up the symptoms. Anxiety does produce a reaction in the stomach, which children may describe as a stomachache.
Many of us associate test anxiety with older students taking the ACT or SAT tests. However, high-stakes testing is beginning much earlier now. Next month, many of our school-age children will be taking the state exams. These tests can be quite stressful. Third-grade students not passing these tests will likely not be promoted to fourth grade. Older students recognize that test scores may determine whether or not they are accepted to the middle school of their choice. With so much at stake, it’s natural that these tests can also cause anxiety in our young students.
A certain level of anxiety can be a good thing. It is frequently a source of motivation. Without it, many of us would not get certain things done. As a teacher, I want my students to feel some amount of anxiety about this test throughout the year. This can serve as motivation to pay attention and learn the necessary material. However, I don’t want my students to be suffering high levels of anxiety while actually taking the test. As test time approaches, I try to bring down the anxiety level of my students. I assure them that I’ve taught them what they need to know and discuss the success of students from prior years. Parents may wish to use this same approach by reminding children throughout the school year about the importance of doing well on these tests, but then using calming strategies as the test approaches.
These are some techniques for reducing test anxiety as April approaches.
1. Know what to expect. Discuss the format of the test with children. It’s helpful for students to know whether the test will be multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer, essay, or a combination of these.
2. Prepare students with some test-taking tips. For example, on a multiple choice test, it is common to rule out one or two of the answers first. Find out whether it is best to guess, or leave an answer blank, to the questions the child doesn’t know. It is better to guess on most, but not all, of these tests. Your child’s teacher will probably be able to answer these types of questions for you.
3. Boost your child’s confidence, but not too much. Remind your child how much he has learned this year. The reason I say not to boost it too much is that it can be dangerous to be overconfident about these high-stakes tests. Every year I have one or two students in my class that are so self-assured that they don’t feel the need to work carefully or check their work. Even high achievers must acknowledge that they need to spend time checking their work carefully.
4. Make sure your child is getting plenty of rest. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety in children as well as adults. Do not try to put your child to bed early only on the evenings before tests. Develop a routine that includes plenty of sleep long before the approaching test. Putting a child to bed early only on nights before testing may actually increase the child’s anxiety. Breaking the child’s routine may make it difficult for the child to fall asleep, and it’s possible that the child will toss and turn worrying about the test. The early bedtimes need to be in effect long before the test arrives.
5. Discuss your child’s specific concerns. Ask your child some questions to determine exactly what is causing the anxious feelings. You may be surprised at some of the answers. Some may be concerned about actually filling in the bubbles. They do need to be filled in neatly and completely. Practicing at home could help to relieve this stress. Some children are afraid they won’t be given enough time to complete the tests. In this case, you may want to ask the teacher if there is a time limitation. If you and your child can identify the specific concerns, you and your child’s teacher can help to relieve them.
6. Teach positive self-talk. The student may come to a difficult problem and think, “This is hard! I can’t do this!” Teach your child to fight back with words like, “I’m not afraid of you. I just need to work slowly and carefully. I’ve got this!”
With high-stakes testing coming earlier than ever, test anxiety in children is also coming at earlier ages. If your child complains of frequent stomachaches, you may want to determine if this could be related to test anxiety. Don’t assume your child is just trying to get out of going to school. Anxiety does produce symptoms similar to stomachaches. Once you have determined that test anxiety may be the cause, try some of the tips above. You may also wish to visit with a therapist who specializes in working with children.