Like acne and growth spurts, test anxiety is a pretty normal part of being a kid. Being nervous about taking tests isn't reserved for students with learning disabilities, although these children are often especially prone to test anxiety. As a parent, you might feel powerless as you watch your child struggle with fear about an upcoming quiz or exam. You can't take the test for them, but there are some strategies you can use to help your student relax and prepare.
Pinpoint the Contributing Factors
Different aspects of test-taking are stressful for different kids, so talk to your child about exactly what's causing his anxiety. Is he nervous about running out of time to finish? Does he keep mixing up the same spelling words and fears he'll do the same on the test, or is he struggling with multiplying fractions before a big math exam?
If the contributing factors are something related to the physical environment, the teacher might be able to make some accommodations, like moving him to a part of the room away from most distractions. If his anxiety is caused by his struggles with the material, you can spend some extra time working with him or connect him with online tutoring resources. And if his anxiety is generalized and not about any one particular trigger, you'll know to focus on helping him fight anxiety more generally.
Practice Coping Skills
Anxiety gets worse and worse leading up to the test itself, so you can't be there to help your kid through the worst moments. Instead, arm him to fight his own anxiety using breathing and calming exercises. YouTube is really helpful for this; find meditation and breathing videos designed for kids and do the exercises alongside your child. Talk about how he can do those same exercises in the classroom before and during a test. Meditation apps like Calm or HeadSpace are also great options.
An additional strategy would be to have the child engage in rigurous physical activity the morning of the test. Increasing heart rate and engaging the muscles help to engage areas of the brain that help us modulate stress.
Run Test Simulations
Turn your living room into a mock classroom to give your student real practice with test scenarios. First, ask her to describe everything that normally happens during a test. How are the students arranged? What's the noise level in the room like? Does the teacher talk during the test itself?
Next, create a sample test that is similar in subject matter and format as the real test she'll take. (Find sample tests online, or make a short version yourself by pulling questions from her homework.) With her help, make the conditions in your living room as close as possible to those in the classroom. Give her the sample test and, while she works on it, mimic the noises of other students and the teacher. If you notice her getting stressed, give quiet reminders of the coping exercises she can use to relax.
**Results based on a parent evaluation form filled out pre and post-program where the parents ranked a set of statements about their child, on a scale from 0-10 (0=not observed/does not apply and 10=frequently observed). Statement: Child has difficulty learning in school – 42% improvement for avg. student (2015-2018, data for 4,069 students where parents reported this issue).