Test anxiety can make academic life miserable for students who suffer from it. It often accompanies other learning disabilities, but it can also occur on its own as a triggered form of generalized anxiety. When your child gets anxious before a test or quiz, the result can be poor performance, which can, in turn, make him or her more anxious for the next assessment. This can create a vicious cycle.
The Challenges of Test Anxiety
For children and teens who struggle with test anxiety, there are two major issues in play. First is that it makes them feel terrible, as anxiety often manifests itself with uncomfortable physical symptoms, including the following:
- Nausea and digestive issues
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling faint
- Strong feelings of fear or anger
In addition, test anxiety can lead to many academic challenges. Students who do poorly on tests will struggle to keep their grades up, as tests are often a major portion of their final grade. They may also struggle to complete or do well on required standardized tests, which can lead to inappropriate class placements based on their artificially low test scores instead of actual ability. College admission tests are also a fraught area, as low scores can make it hard for students to be accepted into competitive universities.
Managing Test Anxiety
Fortunately, it is possible to treat test anxiety and help students deal with their overwhelming feelings. Try the following tips to make test anxiety more manageable:
- Study early and often. Breaking up material into smaller pieces instead of cramming all at once is more relaxing — and more effective.
- Develop strong study skills. Learning to break down material, using mnemonic devices and establishing a routine will lead to better retention of information and greater confidence.
- Practice relaxation skills. Kids can learn to meditate and bring these skills to the test. Try deep breathing, focused visualization and more to stay calm while testing.
- Consider therapy. Talking to a therapist who specializes in anxiety and cognitive behavioral therapy can provide a whole range of benefits and help teach important anxiety management skills.
When test anxiety is severe, it may help asking your child’s teacher for accommodations — especially if your child has an IEP or a 504 plan. Some common accommodations include the following:
- Extra time
- Small group or separate testing environments
- Familiar proctors
- Fidget toys or comfort items to hold
- Shorter versions of tests
- Alternate assessments like projects or presentations