9 tips for helping grade-schoolers cope with test anxiety

Does your grade-schooler get overly stressed on test days? Not all stress is bad. Good stress pumps us up and can help us perform well. But too much stress can give way to anxiety and fear that get in the way of kids showing what they know. If you’re noticing test anxiety, try these tips to help your child feel more at ease with test taking.

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

Help your child pinpoint what’s causing the anxiety. Is it that multiplication is too hard? Is filling in the bubbles on the test sheet the hard part? Often just saying what’s happening out loud can bring some relief. And understanding what the concerns are can help both of you come up with strategies.

As you talk, try not to let your child’s anxiety make you feel anxious. If you’re calm, it can help your child stay calm, too.

2. Give a sneak peek at test formats.

Knowing what to expect can take away some of your child’s fear of the unknown on quiz or test day. Check in with your child’s teacher about the schedule and format for both short quizzes and longer tests. Try to get a sample of each type of quiz and test. Then review each sample with your child. (“This is the word bank. These are fill-in-the-blank questions.”)

3. Help prepare little by little.

Studying in chunks can help make the task more manageable — and that could help make your child less nervous. Once you know when your child’s tests will be, work backwards to schedule daily study times. Say your first grader has a 20-word spelling test every Friday. You can study 10 new words on Monday. On Tuesday, you can study the other 10 new words. Then review all 20 words on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before school.

4. Find study methods that are comfortable.

Your child’s style of learning can help you figure out what might work best for studying. Some kids like using flashcards. Some like to move around while reciting facts. Work with your child to come up with a study method that feels right. You can also ask your child’s teacher for ideas, based on experience with your child.

Consider creating a homework station, too. An organized, consistent study space may help your child feel more at ease about studying for tests.

5. Work on some basic strategies.

Some kids may have test anxiety because they don’t understand the basics of taking tests. Going over simple strategies can help. Remind your child to start by reading through the questions carefully. Kids can ask themselves, “What am I being asked to do here? Circle an answer? Write a paragraph?” Last, always check the answers before handing in the test.

You can also talk about strategies for tricky questions. For instance, tell your child it’s OK to skip a tough question and move on to an easier one. Then go back to the tough question later.

6. Boost your child’s confidence.

Honest and specific praise can remind your child that success is possible no matter what the outcome of the test is. Success doesn’t have to mean a perfect score. Just doing a good job of preparing is already a win. So if you notice that your child is working hard on preparing for a test, mention this. Feedback like this can help kids approach tests with more confidence.

Praise effort on daily homework and activities outside of school, too. This can help kids remember past successes when they’re feeling anxious. You can also take a look at other ways to boost your child’s confidence before a test.

7. Remind your child of support that’s available.

If your child has an or a that includes accommodations on tests, remind your child about it. Knowing that supports are in place may help your child feel more at ease. When kids are using an accommodation for the first time, it’s a good idea to talk them through how it will help during a test.

If your child doesn’t have an IEP or a 504 plan, consider talking to the teacher about informal supports that could help. And make sure the teacher is aware that your child gets anxious about tests. The teacher may be willing to sit down with your child before a test and offer reassurance. It can help kids feel less anxious if they know the teacher understands and is supportive.

8. Help your child feel good on test day.

Not getting enough sleep can affect how kids feel on test day. This is especially true for kids with attention issues. Make sure your child gets enough rest the night before a test. Be mindful of screen time. Be sure your child takes all necessary medications. And try to provide a protein-rich breakfast, like eggs or oatmeal.

9. Debrief after tests.

After a test, ask your child how it went. Did your child feel prepared? Was there anything your child felt unprepared for? (You can also talk about this when your child gets the graded test back.) This can help kids learn to make their own decisions about how to prepare for tests in the future: “Before the unit test, I should practice using my vocabulary words in a sentence.” Figuring out what to try next time can help kids feel more in control of the situation. And that could reduce test anxiety going forward.


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