8 tips to help middle-schoolers cope with test anxiety

Once kids reach middle school, they'll take more tests in more subjects than ever before. Kids with learning and thinking differences who’ve done poorly on tests in the past may have difficulty quieting the voice that says, “I’m going to fail again!” Use these tips to help your child reduce test anxiety.

1. Ask what’s making your child feel anxious.

Talk about your child’s concerns and try to find out about any specific worries. The anxiety may have to do with the particular subject area, for instance. Or it may be the format of the test.

Knowing what’s making your child anxious can help you talk about specific strategies or accommodations that might help. That alone may offer some relief. As you talk, try not to let the anxiety you’re discussing make you anxious. If you can stay calm, that may help your child feel calmer.

2. Reduce anxiety through practice tests.

If a teacher is willing to offer practice tests, encourage your child to take them. If not, review any previous quizzes and tests, and go over the formats together. Discuss what your child finds confusing about a format and what might make it clearer.

Doing a practice test can also let your child learn how to set a pace during the actual test. Feeling anxious can make some kids race through. Help your child keep track of how long it takes to get through the test, leaving enough time to think about and answer each question and review the answers.

3. Avoid sudden panic by creating a schedule.

It can be stressful for your child — and you — to suddenly realize there’s an exam the next day. By knowing when each test or quiz is scheduled, you can help your middle-schooler get ready in an organized way.

At the start of each month or marking period, ask your child to find out the dates of quizzes and tests at school. Then mark the dates on a monthly calendar. Together, you can keep track of when each quiz or test is coming up.

4. Guide your child to prepare for tests calmly over time.

Trying to cram for a test is sure to increase your child’s anxiety. Instead, prepare for each test by including test prep time within daily study time. Use your child’s calendar of quiz and test dates to plan. As a test date draws closer, add more prep time each day.

Also, have your child find out which tests or exams may count toward more of the overall grade in each subject. For those important exams (like unit tests), encourage your child to try to increase study efforts.

5. Help your child feel confident that their study notes are accurate.

Kids who struggle with note-taking skills may worry about whether their class notes are correct. Suggest ideas to help them feel confident about materials they use to study for tests.

Some teachers may be willing to provide a set of notes or review your child’s class notes for accuracy. That may be especially true if the subject or task is related to your child’s learning and thinking difference. Another option is for your child to meet with a trusted study buddy to compare notes.

6. Reassure your child that test accommodations are in place.

If your middle-schooler has an or a that includes testing accommodations, check with the teacher before the exam. Make sure everything is in place for your child.

Certain details will help your child relax. For example, knowing who will read the test to your child may relieve some nervousness. Or knowing that it will be possible to take short breaks to leave the room and walk around might decrease your child’s stress.

7. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and efforts.

As a test approaches, don’t ignore or dismiss any feelings that your child shares. Instead, focus on what you’re seeing. “I know this unit was trickier than the last one. But you’re putting in more study hours. You’ll be better prepared than last time.”

Also, praise your child when you see an extra effort to study. “I know you’d rather be at the movies, but I’m proud of you for staying home to go over your notes.” Explain that no matter what the test result is, they did a good job getting ready.

8. Tell your child that setbacks happen — and it’s OK.

For some kids with learning and thinking differences, studying doesn’t always lead to success on a test. And that can feel frustrating. If your child studies but still does poorly, explain that this would be a good time to consider what might improve things next time.

Then come up with an action plan. “I know you feel disappointed by how you did on that health test. You studied so hard. Should we get your IEP team together? We can see if we can find some strategies and accommodations that might help you do better.”


Read next