This time of year students face a multitude of standardized tests. These tests are much longer in duration than students are accustomed to, and can be tied to a range of outcomes such as leveled reading and math placement, graduation, college entrance, and scholarships for students and salary adjustment or job retention for teachers.
According to Billie Sarich, a central Ohio teacher, the testing culture has “created an atmosphere of anxious students and frustrated educators.” Not only is a significant amount of teaching time lost to test preparation and administration, students are feeling the pressure and anxiety caused by all the testing.
Anxiety is the body’s response to anticipating something stressful. Test anxiety is the experience of extreme distress before, during and after an exam and inhibits a student’s ability to do his best work. When the body is under stress, it releases the hormone adrenaline and this causes the physical symptoms. Test anxiety can cause a multitude of problems in students, including nausea, headache, inability to focus, irritability, anger and depression. Students can even begin to have anxiety about their physical symptoms, and fear getting sick or passing out in reaction to a test. All the physical symptoms further distract the student from focusing on doing his or her best.
While anxiety can affect almost all students at one time or another, it occurs more often in students who are worriers or perfectionists. Feeling unprepared for a test because the student doesn’t understand material, didn’t study, or didn’t get a good night’s sleep can also increase his or her anxiety.
If your child struggles with test anxiety, he or she may find these tips useful from Kidshealth.org:
- Use stress ahead of the test as a reminder to prepare. Focus that energy on studying.
- Ask for help… from the school counselor or teacher.
- Be prepared. Develop good study habits. Learning happens best with steady effort over time.
- Watch what you’re thinking. Negative messages to self make test anxiety worse. Replace negative thoughts with realistic positive affirmations, “I’ve studied for this and I’m going to do my best.”
- Accept mistakes. Try to keep mistakes in perspective. Consider mistakes a learning opportunity.
- Take care of yourself. Learn ways to calm down, such as relaxation and breathing exercises. Getting enough sleep and exercise and eating healthy makes for a healthier body and mind.
Additional tips from schoolcounselor.org suggest:
- Practice the neutral tool. Whenever you catch a negative thought, you stop the thought cycle and focus on the area around your heart while you breathe in and out. Slowly exhale and slowly inhale. Try to find calm thoughts about the situation. Practice this days leading up to and just before the test.
- Flip the what-if questions. When we worry about something, we tend toward the worst. Let’s flip that thought pattern around and ask positive what-if questions. “What if I remember more than I thought?” “What if I feel more calm than I think I can?”
- Think good thoughts. Research has shown that positive thoughts can have a calming effect. In fact, if you imagine what it feels like to pet a dog or get a hug… and just hold on to the feeling for 10-20 seconds; it can actually change your overall feeling and help your brain work better.
- Get enough sleep. Make sure you get at least 8-10 hours of sleep before a big test. Maybe do something else the evening before to take your mind off the test and wake feeling more relaxed.
- Eat a hearty breakfast. The brain’s energy comes from food, and a good quality breakfast including complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain) and protein (such as eggs or nuts) keeps your brain working longer.
Even if you can’t eliminate test anxiety, perhaps you can help lessen its impact. The health benefits gained from these strategies can help to keep anxiety in check and improve school performance. As a parent, you can help your child the most by staying positive and affirming your child’s worth beyond the test.