6 tips to help high-schoolers cope with test anxiety

By Lexi Walters Wright

High-schoolers face some new types of tests, from midterms and finals to college entrance exams and state graduation tests. The stakes may feel higher to them, which can fuel their anxiety. These tips may help reduce your teen’s worries over tests.

1. Listen to your teen’s concerns about tests — and about the future.

Many high school tests help determine what your child will do after graduation. These tests may be especially stressful for teens with learning and thinking differences who may feel unsure about their future.

Talk honestly about what your teen is feeling, and listen to concerns. Try to be reassuring but realistic. “We can help be sure you’re prepared for this test. And however you do on it, don’t be worried. There are so many options for you after high school, and we’ll work with you to find the best ones.”

2. Help balance their schedule so they’re not squeezed for time.

It’s one thing to not take enough time to study for a test. It’s another thing to not have enough time. Feeling rushed can increase anxiety. Help your child leave enough room in their schedule to comfortably prepare.

Look over your child’s schedule of classes and activities. Then talk about the amount of time needed for studying. You might consider scaling back on activities if that will give your child enough time to study. Explain how keeping a balance can relieve stress.

3. Help them avoid stressful cramming.

Last-minute cramming for an exam is likely to increase anxiety. Part of the problem may be issues with organization and time management.

One way to avoid that is by helping kids create a monthly calendar of tests. From there, help them set up a weekly schedule for review before each test or quiz. Review the test calendar at a set time each week and create the next week’s study plan. Having a schedule mapped out, and staying on top of it, can help kids feel more in control.

4. Eliminate surprises with information about the test.

Some high-schoolers become anxious when they don’t know what to expect from the test. Is it multiple choice or short answer? Does it involve a skill they struggle with?

Suggest that your child find out what type or combination of questions will be on the test or exam. Knowing what to expect can help kids prepare and feel more confident going into it. Kids who have trouble with handwriting, for instance, may worry that their science test will involve labeling a diagram. If they could practice in advance, it might reduce anxiety.

5. Be sure they understand their test supports.

Knowing that their specific needs are understood can help reduce test anxiety. When kids have an or a that includes testing accommodations, make sure they know what the accommodations are and why they’ll help. (Kids can apply for accommodations for college entrance exams, as well.)

You can also tell kids that if the teacher or test proctor forgets about the accommodations, they should self-advocate and remind them.

6. Communicate to your teen that setbacks happen — and it’s OK.

Even with good study habits, some students with learning and thinking differences may not do well on tests. They may start dreading tests and become anxious over them because they’re afraid of failing.

Try countering that fear by coming up with an action plan after a bad test grade. Tell your teen: “I know you studied hard for that health test. Now you know what you tried and what didn’t work so well. Should we get your IEP team together? We can talk about what might work better for you next time.”

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    About the author

    About the author

    Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Rayma Griffin, MA, MEd has spent 40 years working with children with learning and thinking differences in the classroom and as an administrator.