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Education Blog

Stress Management: Easing Kids’ Test Anxiety

The fall season brings lovely colors and cooler weather here in Atlanta, but for many kids headed back to school, it also brings the anxiety and stress of a new school year and the testing that comes with it.  Kids Enabled asked Educational Consultant Wendy Williams for some tips on how to help kids and parents manage those testing jitters.

Although it’s natural for students to have that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling before a test or exam, parents should be aware of those signs and signals that the stress may be too much.  Helping your student develop and practice coping strategies will ensure less stress and more learning.  Below are a few signs that a student could be struggling with an unhealthy level of test anxiety.

Before the test:

  1. Does your student have difficulty sleeping at night?

  2. Does your student show changes in his appetite before a big exam?

  3. Does your student show signs of hopelessness when studying for an exam?

  4. Does your student have trouble focusing or complain of boredom or lack of energy?

Signs of testing anxiety during an exam:

  1. Does your student feel tired or yawn often during an exam?

  2. Does your student indicate often that he felt confused during an exam?

  3. Does your student complain of hot flashes, sweaty palms, mental blocks or headaches during an exam?

  4. Does your student feel discouraged often when taking an exam?

Signs of test anxiety after an exam:

  1. Does your student “blow-off” the exam like it meant nothing to him?

  2. Does your student display signs of guilt or frustration after an exam?

  3. Does your student become depressed or angry after an exam?

If your student displays any of the above signs then testing anxiety could be affecting your student’s classroom success.  Testing anxiety can occur before, during and after an exam.  Most anxiety stems from the fear of failing or performing poorly on a test.  Although a little anxiety can help a student stay alert and possibly increase overall performance, too much anxiety can inhibit a student’s learning style and impact memory.

How can parents help?

There are several ways parents can help their students with test anxiety.  First and foremost, be involved in your child’s education.  Talk with your child about his school day.  What did your child learn today?  What assignments did he bring home?  Does he have any projects due?  Sunday evenings are great times to discuss the upcoming week’s events.  Then all members of the family can have a game plan for any future projects, tests or quizzes.

Your family can never be too organized.  Post your weekly schedule in a room where everyone can be reminded of pertinent school assignments and after-school activities.  Extracurricular activities are important as well because exercise is good for the body and the mind.  Keeping your body active by exercising or participating in an athletic sport like swimming, football, baseball or hockey can help decrease overall stress.

Another way to help your student is to know who the players are on his “school team.”  Introduce yourself to teachers and school administrators at the beginning of the year before a stressful event occurs.  This allows for a more welcoming beginning to the school year, and you establish yourself as an accessible and involved parent.

Outside of the classroom, you can help your student become a better sleeper and healthier eater, as well as offering an atmosphere that is most suitable for studying.

Go to sleep!

Helping your student get the appropriate amount of sleep is critical to handling test anxiety.  Here a few tips for better sleep during those first few weeks of a new school year:

  1. Before school begins, practice bedtime and morning routine one week prior to the first day of school.

  2. It is important for the body to regenerate.  Therefore, the old adage of needing 8 to 10 hours of sleep still rings true today.  A restful mind is a more focused mind.

  3. Reading before bed is a great way to unwind the mind and relax.

  4. For a more peaceful and restful night, be sure to get your student to hand over his cell phone.  We all know how text messages and e-mails continue throughout the night even though we are sleeping!

You are what you eat.

  1. Limit your child’s caffeine and sugar intake after dinner.

  2. Be sure to eat healthy.  Healthy snacks like cheese, fruit, nut mix, edamame, cottage cheese and fruit, peanut butter, tuna fish and protein bars are great for energizing your body and mind.

  3. Avoid feeding your child big meals close to bedtime.

  4. Make after-dinner a relaxing time.

Creating a study-conducive atmosphere

Making sure the environment at home is conducive to productive study is a must.  Help your student setup a study area somewhere in the home that contains the necessary elements that help your student concentrate.  Let your student be your guide as to what he needs.

Study Area Tips:

  1. Location is extremely important – do not choose a spot where your student will get distracted.  Usually kitchens and living rooms are not great study areas.

  2. Be sure to have important items in your study room like dictionary, thesaurus, study guides, pens, pencils, highlighters, rulers, paper, and calculator.

  3. Set a specific time for studying and stick to it.

  4. Organize your study area so that it is neat and accessible.  Keeping it tidy will produce better results.

  5. Personalize the space with uplifting and meaningful words, artwork or pictures.  A student’s study environment should be a reflection of who he is.

  6. Cell phones are not allowed in study areas.  Make it a rule!

  7. Computers should be turned off when reading textbooks.

  8. Be sure to have files in your study areas so that you can organize old notes and tests.  This way you can refer back to them when needed for a test.

  9. For younger students, color coding subjects with notebook pockets or folders keeps papers and materials organized.

  10. Design a monthly calendar that shows major projects, activities, tests and quizzes, and display it prominently in the home study area.  This will help with scheduling study goals.

  11. Discuss with your student those circumstances that may happen that will hinder him reaching study and academic goals.  Preparing for those circumstances helps him feel ready and better able to resist the distractions.

  12. Also, discuss incentives and rewards.  What will be his favorite thing to do when the test is over and he has some free time?  Knowing that there is something to look forward helps with motivation.

Some students can concentrate longer than others.  If you can’t work for twenty-five minutes without losing focus, consider creating a personal training program to build up your study stamina.  Use an egg timer.  Before beginning to study, set the timer for 10 minutes.  When the buzzer goes off, take a five-minute break.  Repeat the time for your one study session until your finished studying.  Then on the following day, set your egg timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break.  Again, repeat the 15-minute period until your studying is complete for that day.  Add five minutes each day to increase your study stamina.  Soon you should be able to study for 45 minutes without taking a break.

Every student learns and studies differently.  By being aware of their student’s unique learning and study styles, parents can help maximize time and energy and further ensure academic success.  Remember that two important skills for decreasing testing anxiety are preparation and persistence.  Preparation keeps a student organized and ready for the upcoming test, and being persistent allows the student to keep moving forward toward the completion of plans (e.g., a study schedule) and goals (e.g., a good grade on the test).  Students who have coping and studying strategies in place are more likely to successfully overcome the obstacles and time constraints that are bound to come up.  Reducing the worry and anxiety that can come with testing opens the student’s mind for greater concentration, increased retention of facts and information, and better reading comprehension.

Sidebar One:

Quick Test Taking Tips:

*Don’t cram for a test.

*Don’t stay up late studying for a test.

*Don’t review your notes right before class.

*Avoid negative comments and attitudes before a test.

*Arrive early to your class.

*Bring all the necessary supplies (2 pencils with good erasers, a calculator…).

*Bring your own watch to better pace yourself.

*When you first receive your test, quickly survey the test so that you know how to    best utilize your time.

*If you don’t know the answer, skip it.

*Ask the instructor or clarification if you don’t understand the question.

*Read the instructions all the way through before starting.

*Don’t try to finish first!

*Double check your answers, if time allows.


Kristen never crammed for an exam and gave herself plenty of time to study.  She did not think of testing in a negative way which allowed her to remain rested and calm.  She listened in class and was a very good student overall.  Her anxiety became clear to her parents, teachers and counselor when she would become physically uncomfortable before an exam.  Kristen would complain of headaches and stomachaches.  She also complained of never being able to remember what she studied or learned in class.  In fact, she would often describe her mind as “going blank.”  Although Kristen had no problems with study schedules and learning the information, she struggled when it came to the test itself.  Her parents and counselors worked with her on actual test taking skills: how to relax and breathe, how to retrieve the information she had learned while studying and how to best use the time given to take the test. Some strategies that worked well for Kristen were the following:

  1. Read the instructions before looking at the test questions.

  2. Write down the important formulas, facts, definitions and/or keywords in the test margin first so you don’t forget them.

  3. Keep your attention on one question at a time.

  4. Answer the easy questions first and go back to the hard questions. This will give more confidence for tackling the hard questions.  Just make sure to leave enough time to answer the difficult questions.

  5. Circle key words or dates that help you focus on the answer.

  6. Reword the question in your own words to help in understanding the meaning of the question.

  7. To decrease anxiety, practice breathing techniques.

  8. If you don’t understand the question, ask the teacher.

  9. Use all the time allotted for the test.  If you have extra time, go back and check your answers.  There is no prize for finishing a test first!

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