Mrs. James answers readers' questions about education. Send yours today: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Mrs. James,
Just wanting your opinion about test anxiety. What is it, how do I know if my child has it, and what do I do about it? My son has been working hard, but he does horrible on the tests and his teachers say it's probably testing anxiety, but sometimes I feel like that's just something that they're saying because they don't know how to explain it. Weigh in, please.
You're so right. Sometimes people (teachers included) tend to diagnose students with testing anxiety when they really don't know what else to do. However you can use the tools and tips in this article to find out for yourself if your son is indeed suffering from test anxiety and what to do about it. Take notes, girl!
He probably has test anxiety if he answers YES to four or more of the following:
I have a hard time getting started studying for a test. When studying for a test, I find many things that distract me. I expect to do poorly on a test no matter how much or how hard I study. When taking a test, I experience physical discomfort such as sweaty palms, upset stomach, a headache, difficulty breathing, and tension in my muscles. When taking a test, I find it difficult to understand the directions. When taking a test, I have difficulty organizing my thoughts. When taking a test, I often "draw a blank." When taking a test, I find my mind wanders to other things. I usually score lower on a test than I do on assignments and papers. After a test, I remember information I couldn't recall during the test.
Quiz your son to see if he identifies with any or all of the listed characteristics above. That should answer your question! Read the question from the next writer to find out what to do about test anxiety. Thanks for asking a great question!
Keep up the good work,
Dear Mrs. James,
Do you have any tips on what to do about my kids' test anxiety? I was the same as a kid, so I completely understand her, but the issue is that they never offer solutions. Thought you might be able to give advice.
Some simple and practical tips are (1) Make sure your child gets enough sleep, eats a healthy breakfast and gets to school on time. (2) Encourage your child to keep up with homework assignments, studying and reading. Often times, the insecurity that comes from not being adequately prepared for the material produces an anxiety. (3) Talk to your child's teacher(s) and make sure they're aware of the problem. Testing anxiety is usually easily "cured" with a simple adjustment. It's figuring out what that adjustment is that is the toughest part. One of my students truly has testing anxiety, and I came up with the idea to let her take the tests during lunch when no one else was in the room. That helped a ton!
Some more specific suggestions for you are to (1) Avoid giving excessive reassurance, such as repeatedly saying, "You'll do great!" Too much reassurance causes anxious children to put too much pressure on themselves. (2) Motivate your child to WANT to take the test. You can do this by reinforcing their efforts, such as studying and homework tasks, rather than focusing on having to make a certain grade. (3) Whatever you do, don't allow the child to avoid the situation ("You can just stay home today"). Instead, teach him/her ways to relax through simple techniques such as deep breathing.
Last, but definitely not least, make sure that you don't diagnose your child yourself with testing anxiety. If your child doesn't really have testing anxiety, but rather insecurity from improper studying and homework completion, then the testing anxiety diagnosis will most certainly become a crutch. It will become a lifelong excuse for your child not to give her best because she'll already feel defeated before she begins! Keep me posted on how everything goes. Until then...
Keep up the good work!