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My Tween Can't Take a Test

Test Anxiety: Helping your tween cope.

Key points

  • Test anxiety can affect self-esteem.
  • Validate your tween’s feelings of frustration, and or embarrassment in the face of test-taking.
  • Studying strategies and relaxation techniques can go a long way in helping to reduce test anxiety
Prostock Studio/iStock
Source: Prostock Studio/iStock

It’s always the same story. You know she’s studied hard for that test because you helped her. When you tested her last night, she knew it all. You were both positive she would ace it this time.

Anxious to hear how it went you meet her at the door and begin to ask how she thought it went. She responds with a raised hand (as if trying to push your question away.) “I don’t want to talk about it,” she says simply, “I blanked again.”

If this scenario sounds common, your child may be suffering from test anxiety. The American Psychological Association defines test anxiety as tension and apprehensiveness associated with taking a test, frequently resulting in a decrease in test performance.

At the extreme, test anxiety can be a debilitating condition that chips away at self-esteem resulting in even the most intelligent child feeling defeated and stupid. This requires specific school-supported interventions to level the playing field for your anxious child. At more moderate levels, a few helpful set of techniques and tools can help your child overcome this anxiety allowing them to reflect their true academic capabilities in testing situations.

A Little Bit of Anxiety Goes a Long Way

Not all test-related anxiety is a bad thing. As many others have noted, a modicum of anxiety while taking a test can actually be motivating. It is when that line gets crossed into flight or fright territory that becomes overwhelming and incapacitating.

Of course, anxiety is not a requirement for success. Some kids are cool and confident test takers, whose scores reflect this accurately.

Signs & Symptoms

Research suggests that it is not uncommon for parents and educators to underestimate test anxiety in students. While test anxiety can be debilitating, it is often difficult to detect because isan internal process. Physical or outward symptoms may include: headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat. In addition, individuals may blank on material and feel incapacitated, unable to answer questions. Anxiety may result in slowing processing of material resulting in an inability to complete tests in the time allotted.

Rule Outs

It is important to rule out alternative reasons for the inability to perform on a test. In some instances, an individual may actually. have a learning disability or ADHD. The best way to determine this is through neuropsychological testing through the school district or private testing.

Proper Prep Goes a Long Way

The first step in this process is awareness. It goes without saying that you can’t help your tween prep for a test if you don’t know when they have tests. Set aside time each night to review your tween’s upcoming academic schedule including assignments and tests. As your tween reaches teenhood these sessions should be shorter, as your tween should be able to quickly review with you what is due.

Once you identify test days you can ensure that your tween gets a good night of rest the day before, and a nourishing breakfast the morning before. Of course, as a parent, you want to ensure this every day, but it can be helpful to explain to your tween that having enough sleep and a balanced meal prior to a test can really help with concentration and overall test performance.

Study Strategies

The key to overcoming test anxiety can be as simple as confidence. Encourage your tween to avoid cramming for tests. Instead, they should get into the habit of studying new material every day. Be sure they attend extra help sessions offered by their teacher.

A multisensory approach to studying can also be quite helpful. This can be achieved by taking an active approach to study. In addition to reading over the material, make flashcards, then review the flashcards. When possible, obtain books on tape and listen while reading along. Remember the recency effect: Information learned first and last is usually retained best, so when studying. focus a lot on information learned in the middle. Bottom line: strong study approaches ease anxiety. The more confident your tween feels about the study material, the less test anxiety they should experience.

Other Techniques to Reduce Text-Taking Stress

During the test, it is imperative that your tween remain calm and focused. Deep breathing exercises can be quite helpful in encouraging calm when in the testing environment. You can practice with your tween to ensure that he masters it. Coach him to take a deep breath in and slowly release the air-breathing out. He should count in his head during the release with the aim of extending the time of release.

Distraction techniques can also be useful to implement if your tween experiences negative worry thoughts when she first enters the testing environment. Teach her the color game. This is played by picking a color and then naming all objects in the room the same color. The naming of lists of things can also be helpful in distracting from negative thoughts. For example, naming the 50 states in alphabetical order, or list all the countries on a specific continent, or favorite foods. Once the negative thoughts are gone, your tween should focus on the test.

If your tween’s test anxiety is truly severe, you may also consider asking for test accommodations like extended time, or taking the test in an alternative room other than the classroom.

Test-taking anxiety can have a strong impact on your tween’s self-esteem. The key to overcoming test anxiety is building your tween’s confidence in taking situations. A little bit of attention to this condition can go a long way. Validate your tween’s feelings of frustration, and, or embarrassment.

Consider outside counseling for your child to help address the issue and build back self-esteem. Inquire about arranging with your school to get inside counseling with a school social worker or psychologist. When you acknowledge the issue and focus on putting a plan to address it, you offer your tween the best opportunity to overcome it.


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