Schools and tests go together. For some kids, the former isn’t so bad, but the latter is a nightmare. No matter how hard they study or how well they know the subject, once the test begins they suddenly can’t remember a thing. It’s called Test Anxiety.
Test anxiety brings on a nervous feeling that can be so overpowering that a child’s palms begin to sweat, they start hyperventilating, their hands shake and they can’t remember the answers they knew so well when they walked in the door.
It’s normal to feel a little anxious before a test; in fact, a little nervous anticipation can actually be helpful by revving the brain to perform at peak performance. However, not all kids respond to nervousness the same way.
Test anxiety is a type of “performance anxiety.” There’s an exaggerated feeling that everything depends on the outcome of the test or that the “pressure’s on” to do well. That’s different than doing poorly on a test because your mind is somewhere else, or you haven’t prepared well and you know, going in, that you don’t know all the answers.
What causes test anxiety? It’s related to stress. Stress affects the body by releasing the hormone Adrenaline. Adrenaline prepares us to react to dangerous situations – sometimes referred to as a “fight or flight” reaction. The adrenaline level can get pretty high when someone is suffering from anxiety- so much so that they feel like they may throw up.
Test anxiety is often accompanied by thoughts of failure. The fear of failure is a deeply rooted dread that can block creativity and rational thought. Someone taking a test might begin to think – what if I don’t know the correct answers? or what if the test is too hard and I flunk it? What if I disappoint my parents? Someone can fear the results so much that they bring about the thing they fear the most.
Who experiences test anxiety? Kids that have extremely high expectations put on them, perfectionist, and kids who worry a lot are more likely to feel threatened by tests. Distracting thoughts and fears can increase the possibility that a person will actually do poorly when testing. It’s not that they don’t know the information; it’s more that they just can’t focus for fear of failure.
Test anxiety can become a real problem if your child can’t get past the “what ifs’.”
You can help your child prepare for a test by discussing the anxiety ahead of time. Let them know that a little stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Help them understand that a certain amount of uneasiness is common whenever someone is facing an important moment. You can also tell them about times when you were worried that you might fail at an important task. Explain how stress can actually be helpful in preparing them to take on something that they fear.
A school counselor or teacher can also be of assistance. If your child has someone at school they look up to, see if you can set up an appointment. Counselors and teachers may have extra insight in helping kids get over their fear of tests. Many teachers know a child’s emotional IQ and learning curve because they are with them day in and out.
Being prepared is beneficial as well. Acing a test requires more than just showing up at school every day. Good study habits and reviews by parents are important. Create your own test for your child’s school lessons. Cramming the night before a test is anxiety producing. A prolonged analysis of each lesson during the week can help your child be much more prepared. It helps provide a deeper understanding of the subject material.
Talk to your child about making mistakes. We all make them and they are no different. Learning to tolerate small mistakes and learning from them is how we make progress. Without mistakes, we miss out on many learning opportunities.
There’s a skill to turning mistakes into learning opportunities that can be a valuable asset in the future.
One way to be at your best during a test is to learn how to do deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing is calming. Practice with your child because it’s not something that comes naturally when anxiety takes over.
Make sure your child gets plenty of rest before a test. Being tired and sleepy doesn’t help the brain function at its best. A healthy breakfast, a little exercise and a good night’s sleep will give your child the best opportunity to do well on test day!