How You May Accidentally Be Making Test Anxiety Worse

By February 20, 2021Parent Tips

Test anxiety is very common.

However, I’ve come to realize that the more we, as parents, try to help our children alleviate that anxiety, we often add to it… accidentally, of course.

Jim, a parent, recently contacted us with a great question about how he can best help his child. I thought our conversation could be valuable to many others, as well…

Brain Biology

Jim’s Question:

Our daughter transferred schools this year. She’s gone from a more relaxed environment (5-6 tests in a month) to a more rigorous environment (3-6 tests every week). We are working with the school AND working with the SOAR Study Skills workbook and App (which we love).

We do even more than you recommend: We study note-cards each night to try to stay ahead. We orally quiz her (especially the night before the test) and she knows the answers. Sometimes we make pre-tests with multiple choice, fill-in-blank, matching, T/F, and essay questions. She does fine on these as well.

Then, when she gets into class to take the test, she freezes up and gets them wrong. So much so she’s getting 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, on her tests across all subjects.

What can we do to help her?

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the question. The great news is, there are several things you can do to help your daughter.

Typically, the best thing for alleviating test anxiety is to feel/be prepared. But, since she’s clearly demonstrating an understanding of the material outside of the test environment, there are a few additional things to consider…

First, and most importantly, let her know you are “very okay” with any test outcome:Be sure to tell her often that you still love her and are SO proud of all of her hard work, regardless of what happens! I’ve seen this happen a lot… with all of the fantastic support you are providing her, she may be (in fact, very likely is) internalizing that you will be very disappointed if she doesn’t perform well on tests. (See my previous article, Student Motivation: Are You Accidentally Sabotaging It With the Wrong Mindset?)

Of course, I know that your disappointment is for her sake; you’ve seen how much effort she’s putting forth and you don’t want HER to be disappointed.

Children don’t quite understand “parental empathy.” So, she internalizes more pressure to not disappoint you. Giving her lots of reassurance that you only care about her effort will likely do a lot to help her release the pressure valve on herself.

Next, ask for extra time to take tests. There’s no pedagogical reason for tests to be timed or have a time-limit. Just knowing she’s not going to be constrained to a time limit will give her some additional breathing space.

Lastly, understand and address the underlying anxiety. We recommend checking out our article, How to Help Students Manage Anxiety.

All of these steps will help ease her test anxiety.

To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger Winter, M.Ed.
Creator of SOAR

The SOAR App shows students how to get organized and be prepared for tests. To see how to get your child started, click here.

 Click here to view on the Study Skills website

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