We are making our way through the Spring Semester. We have less than 50 days left in the school year. Even though this is often an exciting time of year for our students, it also brings about a very stressful one. This week we begin another week of STAAR testing and the end of the year brings final exams.
While anxiety is a normal human emotion and in test situations can actually be helpful and can facilitate the performance of some students; more often it is disruptive and can lead to poor academic performance. Graduation has come to depend on passing standardized tests. As a consequence, more students are likely to have anxiety when taking these tests, which could cause some students to fail parts of these exams despite knowing the material (Hubert, 2009).
My hope with this post is to help shed some light on test anxiety, and also identify some tools that can be easily used to help calm some of this anxiety.
What does test anxiety look like?
Anxiety can be visible in how a person thinks, how they behave, and also through physical symptoms. Teenagers will more likely try to avoid what is causing them anxiety, but in some instances, may become disruptive and act out as a way of avoiding the risk of failing or becoming embarrassed. Physical symptoms of anxiety include things such as sweating, racing heart and breathing, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, headaches or stomachaches, and difficulty recalling the test material.
What are the major sources of test anxiety?
As I previously mentioned, standardized tests are an important part of being able to graduate, which most definitely creates an immense amount of pressure on kids. This pressure, along with other fear regarding negative future consequences can create this anxiety. Other sources of anxiety are also thoughts and concerns about failure as well as having a negative self-belief, which may be associating self-worth with grades or test performance.
Ways to reduce test anxiety:
The good news is there are ways to help reduce test anxiety.
- Try relaxation techniques. Take deep controlled breaths in and deep controlled breaths out. Do this all week leading up to the test, before you begin the test and throughout the test as needed.
- Try using positive self-talk to calm your nerves. ( I have done the best I can to prepare for this test, I know the material…)
- Visualize the test day ahead of time. Visualize walking into the room, sitting at the desk, taking deep breaths and feeling relaxed as you take the exam.
- Do your best to feel prepared for test. Study ahead of time, go to tutorials or ask for extra help if needed.
- Keep things in perspective! Yes, this test is important, but it does not define you or your future. There are plenty of opportunities for retaking the exam if you have to.
- Make time for self-care. Make sure you are eating and sleeping. Remember, our mind cannot function if are bodies are not functioning.
- Take breaks when you need to. If you notice that you are feeling anxious or your mind is racing and you can’t concentrate, take a bathroom break or go get a drink of water.
- If you know that you struggle with test anxiety, reach out to your school counselor for additional strategies or just to have someone to share your concerns with.
What can parents do to help reduce anxiety?
- Take your child’s anxiety seriously and know that you can have an important role in helping them deal with it.
- Help your child with anxiety reducing techniques (as listed above) and practice this together.
- Praise your child and reinforce effort, even if the result isn’t what you were expecting.
- Maintain realistic and attainable goals and be flexible with these goals as needed.
- Be patient and listen.
- Seek out additional help if your child’s anxiety continues or begins to interfere with daily functioning.
What can teachers to do help reduce anxiety?
- Teachers have such an important role in helping identify the students who may be struggling with test anxiety. Therefore, teachers can help by keeping an eye out for student’s exhibiting signs of anxiety leading up to test day.
- If you notice a student exhibiting signs of anxiety, have a conversation about anxiety and suggest the student visit the school counselor.
- Teach your class and your testing room a one minute breathing exercise prior to the test. It only takes one minute and can have such a positive impact!
- Provide reassurance and emotional support.
I hope this information has been helpful, but feel free to reach out or comment if you have additional thoughts or questions!
Pekrun, R., & Schutz, P. A. (2007). Emotion in education. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Hubert, T. J. (september 2009). Test and performance anxiety. Principal Leaderships, 12-16. Retrieved March 25, 2017, from
***Blog disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. No therapist-client relationship arises. The information provided and any comments or opinions expressed are intended for general discussion and educational purposes only. They should not be relied upon for decision-making in any specific case. There is no substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional who could best evaluate and advise based on a careful evaluation. It is understood that no guarantee or warranty arises from the information provided or discussed on this blog.