October 22, 2014
Jenny thought she was prepared for her tenth grade AP Physics exam. She hadn’t missed a single class, consistently participated in group discussions, completed all her homework and was diligent about studying. Her confidence about her preparation was fairly good—until she walked into the classroom. It was then that the nervousness started, and it only got worse as she started reading through the test questions. She froze, feeling so nervous that she wasn’t able to answer the questions she had known so well the night before.
Jasper, a seventh grader, had a similar experience during his English exam, although his preparation for the exam was quite different from Jenny’s. The test was on The Great Gatsby, and Jasper hadn’t finished the book. Although he knew the answers to many of the questions, he didn’t know the answers to all of them. He soon became so nervous that he turned the test back into his teacher with only two questions answered. The next time he took an English exam, he made sure that he had completed the book—but he still found himself having the same anxiety despite being more prepared.
Jenny and Jasper experienced something common to many students—test anxiety. Almost every student has experienced this at one time or another, but for some students, the feeling is so overwhelming and intense that it significantly affects their performance. They may feel physiological arousal, such as sweaty palms, an upset stomach and racing heart; feelings of worry and dread; self-deprecating thoughts; and, tension. For a small percentage of students, this problem can be chronic, affecting their performance in many subjects, and regardless of their level of preparation.
Certain students are more likely to experience test anxiety, and if you find that your child is experiencing this kind of anxiety, it’s important to know which category he or she falls into, as the treatment plan for each may differ. The most likely categories are:
Regardless of the cause of the anxiety, there are some general guidelines that can help all students who find themselves worrying about tests. Feel free to pass along the following advice to your child.
Before the test, it’s important to:
During the test, guidelines that can help you be successful include:
Above all, students should always expect some anxiety. It’s proof that you want to do the best you can, and, if harnessed correctly, it can provide you with the energy to do so. When the test is over, reward yourself for having tried. Don’t go over the test questions with others, as it may just increase your anxiety. Learning to manage test anxiety can take time, but if you find that you’re consistently experiencing significant anxiety, seek help from your school counselor. Talk to your teacher(s) so that they’re aware of your problem well in advance of the first exam. They may, too, have additional suggestions.
Learning to cope with test anxiety can help you acquire strategies to handle general stress, and that can be a valuable skill in many situations—not just those where you are taking an exam.