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Teacher Tip #110: How to Help Students Reduce Test Anxiety

A boy experiencing test anxiety Schoolboy struggling in educational exam

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Test anxiety is more than feeling a little nervous before a test. It is a psychological disorder in which a person feels extreme anxiety and distress in testing situations. It is often characterized by intense worrying or fear during an exam.

An upcoming test can be stressful for students due to uncertainty or unpreparedness. It is usual for students to experience nervousness before and during a test. It is, in fact, okay for students to experience some level of test stress since it gives them mental alertness, which leads to good performance.

However, excessive test stress or distress, also known as test anxiety, can interfere with students’ performance and hurt their learning.

Difficult exam in elementary school
Difficult exams in elementary school?

Quick Facts on Test Anxiety:

  • About 18% of students suffer moderate levels of test anxiety
  • About 17% to 20% of students suffer high levels of test anxiety.
  • Students who suffer from test anxiety perform half a grade lesser than their peers.
  • American Test Anxieties Association report states that students view exams and schoolwork as the most stressful thing in their lives.
  • Untreated childhood anxiety can cause test anxiety.

Test Anxiety Symptoms:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Racing heart.
  • Nausea
  • Tense  muscles
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Thinking negative of themselves
  • Blanking out
  • Comparing one with others.
  • Racing thoughts.

 Emotional Symptom:

  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Fear
  • Disappoint
  • Shame

10 Workable Tips to Help Your Students Manage Test Anxiety:

1. Enhance Classroom Preparation:

Proper preparation for tests includes studying beforehand over rushed cramming a few days to the test.   Helping your students prepare for tests through good studying habits can boost their confidence and help them relax during the test. Ensure you have a well-thought-out review plan to give the students enough time to brush up on skills and knowledge. You should also provide a comfortable test environment.

2. Find out where their fear is coming from:

Understanding the cause of a student’s test anxiety can help you figure out the best solution. Some students are good at articulating their feelings than others. Help the struggling students to build emotional vocabulary that will make their communication easy. Understanding the cause of anxiety makes it easy to find the best ways of calming the student down.

3. Counter the wrong perception:

Most students experience test anxiety because they think a single test can determine their academic career or have significant future implications. However, as an adult, it is easy for you to understand that a test is not a determinant of students’ lives. You know that success and failure are part of life and bound to happen.

Please share this perspective regularly with your students, and remind them that a test does not define their worth, abilities, or future. Be careful when talking to them since the adolescent brain is not fully developed; they may struggle to process information. Please help them deal with internal success and home dynamics pressure that could be causing them stress. Listen and validate their story before since their perception is their reality.

4. Offer them simple strategies to deal with anxiety:

Most students who suffer test stress or anxiety experience the most challenging moments when they sit down to take the test. Providing them with mindfulness and anxiety-reducing techniques can significantly help them to cope. For example, you can encourage them to practice simple breathing exercises, use mantras or positive self-talk, or engage in seated stretches to release tension before and during the test. You can also create a whole class practice to learn coping skills and mindfulness a day before the test.

5. Train them on effective strategies for taking a test.

Learning test-taking skills can calm the nerves of anxious students. Besides developing practical test-taking skills, it also helps them study the content they are being tested for effectiveness. The test-taking practices include thoroughly reading the questions they are being tested for, managing time by skipping the questions they don’t understand, and reviewing their answers if they have some time left.

Teach them good test-taking strategies to calm them down.
Teach them good test-taking strategies to calm them down.

6. Teach them how to create a good study schedule.

 Most students who experience test anxiety spend so much time studying, cramming, and reviewing their notes to get ready for tests. Preparing for an exam is essential. However, you must know the right way to go about it. Please encourage them to divide their work into reasonable chunks during their week and to consider other activities such as homework, hobbies, and extracurricular activities.

Examine your students’ study plan and see any pitfalls or barriers. For example, do the students have enough resources and space? Is the plan doable, or does it need any adjustments? Do they need a study partner or support from a tutor? You may also consider outside pressures that could hinder their study plan and help them adjust. A good study schedule can help students gain confidence, manage stress, and be more productive in their studies.

7. Focus on the Positives

Most students who suffer test anxiety and distress tend to have negative thinking patterns, especially on tests. They focus on all the things that could go wrong, all the mistakes they could make, and how a bad grade could destroy their future! Please help them shift this negative thinking by focusing on their strengths and positive test experiences from the past. For example, you can ask them to write a journal about a test they excelled in the past and what could have contributed to their excellent performance.

8. Comedy:

Narrating a funny story or telling some jokes related to exams can release endorphins, and improve moods, helping students feel more at ease before and during the test. If you are not funny, you can get funny comics related to tests on the internet. Making time for such antics can lighten the exam mood and help students relax. However, you should limit the jokes to avoid shifting students’ totally drifting the mind of students from exams.

9. Reduce Distractions:

Please encourage students to choose a position where they are list distracted in the exam room. Let them name their distractions and find ways to reduce them. For example, some students may be most comfortable at the front desk; others prefer sitting away from the window, while others love sitting near a pillar.

10. Time Obsession:

Time obsession is a significant contributor to test anxiety. A student who obsesses about time keeps on checking time too frequently. It is okay to check time periodically, but too much obsession can distract and lead to anxiety. Most students rush over some questions, miss out on many points, and answer wrongly due to fear of catching up with them.

Time obsession is a significant contributor to test anxiety.
Time obsession is a significant contributor to test anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety that occurs when formal or informal evaluation occurs. It is a subjective experience of extreme physiological, behavioral or cognitive symptoms of anxiety before or during test-taking situations that hinders test performance. Children are more likely to experience test anxiety due to fear of being negatively evaluated.

How can you tell a student is experiencing test anxiety?

Physical Signs
A student with test distress may show the following physical symptoms:
• Sweating
• Rapid heartbeat
• Shaking
• Fainting
• Physical illness, e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.

Behavioral and Cognitive Symptoms
Behavioral and cognitive symptoms may include:
• Avoiding exams
• Negative self-talk
• Memory problems
• Lack of concentration
• Skipping classes
• Dropping out of school
• Drug abuse and alcohol.

Emotional Symptoms
Emotional symptoms of test anxiety may include:
• Low self-esteem.
• Depression.
• Feelings of hopelessness.
• Anger.

What causes test anxiety among students?

Test anxiety can occur due to mental, biological, or situational causes:

Mental causes:
A student may experience test anxiety when they fear poor performance, are afraid of letting down teachers or parents, or put too much emphasis on a test. In addition, anxiety can occur when they use grades to gauge their self-worth, engage in negative self-talk or have low self-esteem.

Situational causes:
Situational causes of test anxiety may include a poor performance from previous tests, too much pressure on timed tests, and peer intimidation. In addition, a lack of comprehension of the material and history of test-related stress are also signs of situational causes of test anxiety.

Biological Causes:
 When the body is in a stressful situation, it releases a hormone known as adrenaline. This hormone prepares the body to handle stressful situations called the fight-or-flight response. This response helps us determine if we will manage stress or run from the situation effectively.
Once the fight-or-flight sets in, a student may find it hard to concentrate or focus on a test. They may even experience nausea, shaky hands, or excessive sweating.
Other causes of test anxiety include:

Fear of failure: Taking a significant test can put a lot of pressure on your child. For example, being pressured to do well in an exam can motivate your child. However, it can stress your child when they feel that the test will determine their actual value or failure will hurt their character.

Poor Preparation:  A student may think they are well prepared for a test and will perform well; therefore, they put aside their studies until the last minute. Other students do not study at all. Such behaviors can accelerate your child’s anxiety on test day.

High Pressure:  The thought that your child needs to achieve a specific score to go to a new class or determine their placement in college can pressure them and eventually cause test anxiety.
Past Failures:  failures from past tests can cause your child anxiety during a new test. Help them overcome the stress and be focused by encouraging them and reminding them of their past successes.

Who is at risk of getting test anxiety?

The High-achievers:
• Perfectionists who put too much pressure on themselves.
• Students with high expectations to the extent of getting overwhelmed during exams.

The Underprepared Students:
• Students who did not prepare enough for the tests
• Students who do not understand the material
• Negative attitude or lack of confidence.

Can test anxiety be overcome?

Yes. Students can overcome test anxiety by exercising the following strategies:
• Learning effective study habits and avoiding cramming.
• Take their time to study where they will take the test.
• Have a consistent pretest routine that works for them.
• Talk to the teacher when they feel overwhelmed or struggle with some material.
• Learning varying relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
• Practice a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy meals and sleeping about 8 hours.
• Getting professional help if they have any learning challenges or disabilities.

Let’s not waste our energy on panic. .
Let’s not waste our energy on panic.

Our Parting Shot:

Students should always approach their studies seriously but think of tests as a game. Please do not put too much pressure on exams since it can arouse their stress. They should aim at getting as many points as possible but not obsess over the results. Let them know that they don’t have to answer every question during a test, and failing is not the end of life!

Please call us at 844-902-4242 for more information. You can also access more educative articles on our Kids on the Yard website.

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