test anxiety head pic

Test are a part of life. Sometimes they are written – other times they are based on your performance. They aren’t bad – they serve a good purpose to see what level of mastery a person holds for a subject or skill.

Yet many children and students have worry and anxiety whenever they hear the word test.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Test Anxiety – How To Help Our Kids Manage

While very few people actually like taking timed tests, the experience is much worse for some.  It’s been estimated that approximately 30% of people experience a least a moderate level of test anxiety.

While the discomfort is bad enough, it has a distinct effect on test performance as well.  Students with test anxiety have been shown to score nearly a half a grade below non-stressed students.  It isn’t limited to college students taking the ACT or SAT either.  This problem can begin at a young age.

My daughter (and wife for that matter) both suffer from this condition.  I am one of the lucky ones that thrived on standardized testing. This made it difficult for me to understand both the feelings causing the condition and the strategies for coping with test anxiety.

If you or one of your children suffer from test anxiety, here are some strategies our staff writers have uncovered to help lower your aniety levels come test-taking time.

10 Ways To Deal With Test Anxiety In Schools and Colleges

1. Prepare with Good Routines

The additional pressure of trying to learn and remember the work the night before increases anxiety. It may be so bad that the child can’t study at all. Instead of attempting to do everything in one sitting, develop good routines throughout the year.

Listen attentively to the teacher, take notes where necessary, and review the work learned that day. Often homework includes reviewing the material; if not, make it part of your child’s daily routine. By reviewing the work regularly, the child builds confidence in their ability to learn and understand the material. Then they need only to revise the content for the test. Even a surprise test won’t catch them unawares.

2. Embrace the Test Don’t Fear It

The night before your child’s birthday or before going on holiday, they can’t sleep from excitement. Have you noticed they have similar symptoms when they are anxious before a test? Nervousness, quickened heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, and sweaty palms aren’t only associated with anxiety but with excitement too.

Ask famous athletes, and they’ll tell you they relate their symptoms as excitement and not anxiety. When your child associates positive emotions with these symptoms, they’ll use the adrenaline surge to their advantage instead of sabotaging themselves.

Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks’ study in 2014 (#1) showed that by relabeling your emotions, you have a different outcome. In her research, the group that said, “I am excited” before singing a song performed better than the neutral group or the group that verbalized their emotions as “I am anxious.”

3. Be the Example

Kids follow the example presented to them. They mimic their parents and other adults’ behavior. You are their role model. How you react in stressful situations may guide them too. Being late for work, stuck in traffic, or going for a job interview are stressful situations and ideal opportunities to show them how to cope with stress and anxiety.

Instead of aggravating the situation by verbalizing anxiety and stress, do the opposite. Stay calm and speak positively about the situation. Walk them through how you handle it. When they see that the situation is resolved despite some anxiety, they will mimic it in their life.

4. Get Ready for School Early To Reduce Test Anxiety

Sometimes focusing on a test day may accentuate the stress, and the child could become more anxious. When changing the routine on a test day, signals to the child that it’s an important day they can’t mess up, which in turn increases the anxiety levels.

Morning and evening routines on school days should be the same as on a test day. For example, a child should have a good night’s rest so that they can focus in class. They should have a good breakfast every school day, not just test days.

Although the child must do their best in the test, it’s also vital for them to understand that the test is a snapshot, not their life. If they’ve prepared for the test, then the test will take care of itself. If they haven’t prepared enough, then they must also do their best and learn from their mistakes.

5. Celebrate Overcoming Test Day

It’s important to do well in a test, but sometimes the importance of the test shouldn’t be the primary focus. Getting through the day could be a more significant accomplishment than the test results.

When a child realizes that, despite their anxiety, they had written the test and survived the day, they experience a feeling of accomplishment. It gives them hope for next time. Reward your child by celebrating them overcoming test day anxiety, that they stuck through and didn’t quit despite their feelings.

Celebrating after the test emphasizes their accomplishment of not giving in to their anxiety. It reinforces that they can cope with any given situation.

6. Take A Deep Breath

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience (#3) found a direct correlation between the way you breathe and cognitive function. Shallow breathing could keep a person indefinitely in a low state of anxiety, while deep breath could help a child when writing a test.

The study showed that when a person breathes using their diaphragm, it has a calming effect and could help them recall and recognize objects. In other words, taking a deep breath instead of shallow breathing could influence the child’s test result.

7. Physical Exercise Helps Reduce Anxiety

Taking a long walk or enjoying nature is often the best remedy for feeling cooped-up. It could also be the solution to test anxiety.

Give your child permission to take a break and play outside, run around the house, or dance to music. Physical exercise helps them get rid of all the pent-up energy and stress. They may feel guilty in taking a break, but if you lovingly “force” them, they have permission to rid themselves of excess stress.

8. Trust the Process

By the time you are sitting down to write the test, you can’t do anything more about learning for the test. At that point, it’s unimportant if you had studied enough; instead, focus on retaining what you have learned.

Focus on the question. Read it carefully. Make sure you understand the question. Many students know their material but lose points because they didn’t read the question correctly. If your child misreads questions, help them to practice reading test questions during the school term.

Start writing. A blank test page may be daunting to some. Trust the process. You will recall what you’ve learned.

9. Remember – Only Your Test Matters

Each student has a tempo when writing a test. The amount of time a student takes indicates the pace they work, not how much they know. Some students can write for an hour and get the same results as other students who write for three hours.

It is essential to realize that and not compare your pace with another student’s. Only your test matters because you have a direct influence on its outcome. Therefore, ignore other students and focus on your test.

It is helpful, however, to pace yourself according to the time allocated and not to another student. If you’re running out of time, increase the pace and write what you can in the time available. Learn from the experience and practice writing faster for next time.

10. Build on Past Tests and Learn from Experience

Parents can help children learn from experience. Take note of what worked during the preparation and test writing process and repeat it with the next test. Learn from your mistakes too. If you allocated too little time for preparation, start earlier next time. If the child becomes too anxious to learn the night before, teach them to prepare throughout the school term so that the night before means revision and a good night’s sleep.

Ask friends how they cope with test anxiety and try some of their techniques if yours isn’t working.


Life is full of tests and celebrations too. Learning to recognize anxiety and stress helps students and parents establish coping mechanisms well in advance. According to the AMTAA, about 16-20% of students have test anxiety. Parents can help their children by identifying how their child reacts to the test day and assist them in implementing coping strategies. Your child will be grateful because it will help them as adults too.

#1 https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=45869


#2 http://amtaa.org/

#3 https://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/49/12448