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7 Reasons for Test Anxiety and What To Do About It

January 11, 2016


test anxiety

There are a variety of reasons for test anxiety. The best news is that a little bit of test anxiety is good thing. It provides an adrenaline rush to work efficiently. But too much stress produces a full rush of hormones that interferes with the ability to think clearly and rememberwhat you know. If test anxiety is a problem, read on for the seven most common reasons for test anxiety and what to do about it.

The very first step is to recognize that the reasons for test anxiety are different for every student. The trick is to figure out which one is the reason for your child’s test anxiety.

Subject-Specific Anxiety

Sometimes kids develop test anxiety around one subject but not another, similar to how they might have anxiety around dogs but not cats. It can start with a tough experience with a teacher or even a single bad grade. The best way to help your child overcome the fear is to acknowledge it. Then work together to confront it. If it’s subject-specific, you’re ultimate goal is clear: develop self-confidence in that subject, no matter what it takes. It might require studying a little bit longer, extra help with homework, or going to see the teacher. If the test anxiety is years in the making, it might require playing some catch-up on specific skills, as many subjects are cumulative. Tip: Self-confidence is key!

virtuous cycle

Make it Automatic

Automaticity is the ability to easily recall core information. While it could be the cause of subject-specific anxiety, how you address it is quite different. For elementary students, automaticity is often most important with math facts and sight words. For older students, automaticity might have more to do with remembering problem solving steps in math, vocabulary, or grammar rules. If a student is spending time thinking about the information that is expected to be automatic, he is more likely to run out of energy when it’s time for the more difficult complex thinking tasks. Students who have good reasoning skills but lack automaticity might take longer on homework or in class, but they still produce excellent work. However, they might get stressed when it’s time for the test.

Only repeated practice will help make it automatic. Be careful not to embarrass a child if you discover this is problem. Just practice. Here are a few of the best memorization techniques that will help. Tip: Repeated practice for key facts!

Know Your Speed

Just like we run at different speeds, students need to respond at different rates depending on the context. A timed math facts quiz or parts of the SAT require you to move super quick, like the 50 yard dash. At other times, they need to solve long, complex problems and must pace themselves as they would in a marathon. While some students intuitively adapt their pace to the situation, others don’t. Those that don’t adapt, might struggle to finish tests on time but not understand why. Helping them to create an awareness of pace might be the key to curing their test anxiety. Tip: Teach self-awareness of pace!

Some students simply can’t work more quickly. They need more time than peers to take in information and respond to it. There are strategies that will help with slower processing speed. But the reality is that students with slower processing speed might require extra time. If you think this might be the case, consider a psychoeducational evaluation for your child so the school can provide the appropriate accommodations, including more time for homework or tests. You can find out if your child has weaker processing speed through Mindprint or request that your school assess your child. Tip: If a kid needs extra time, make sure he gets it!

Memorize Effectively

Students with weaker memory might have difficulty remembering what they knew so well the night before. The pressure of a test will only make remembering more difficult. Sometimes memory problems are not obvious, especially when a student understands easily. Students will benefit from learning memorization techniques, including spaced repetition and rehearsal. If you’re not sure if memory is a problem, Mindprint can assess your child’s performance in working memory, verbal memory and visual memory, the three most important memory skills for academic performance. Tip: Teach and use memorization techniques!

Get Self-Aware

A lack of self-awareness can easily translate into bad test results when students think they know but really need to study more. Among bright students, this challenge often pops up for the first time in late middle or high school. If this sounds like your teen, you can read more about metacognition. Then consider starting with this learning strategyTip: Teach how to self-assess knowledge!

Stay Focused

Attention is central to all learning. When children can’t stay focused during a test, they can lose crucial time or make careless mistakes. They might not check their work. Fortunately, students with diagnosed attention weaknesses might qualify for additional time on tests or shorter assignments. If you know your child struggles with attention, ask your child’s school if accommodations are possible. If you think your child might be struggling with attention consider finding out with MindprintTip: Be sure they are focused while studying and taking the test!

It’s General Anxiety

Some students have general anxiety disorders that worsen in stressful situations, like standardized tests. If your child has a generalized anxiety disorder, or you suspect that he or she does, you should work with your child’s therapist to have specific strategies for test-taking situations. These might include using a stress ball, meditation, or muscle relaxation. Children who have a Mindprint Toolbox can find more strategies. Tip: Seek professional support for anxiety that interferes in life activities!

Summing It Up

Science tells us that a little anxiety can boost performance, but too much anxiety can  inhibit it. While stress might be unavoidable in today’s highly competitive schools, we can absolutely lessen every child’s angst by providing them with the individual coping strategies they need.


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