By Lexi Walters Wright
Grade-schoolers with learning and attention issues may feel more nervous about tests than other kids their age. But there are ways you can help your child reduce test anxiety. Use these tips to help your child feel more at ease with taking tests.
Help your child identify what he’s worried about. Is it that multiplication is hard for him? Or is filling in the bubbles on the test sheet really the difficult part? Often just saying out loud what the issue is can bring some relief. And understanding what the concerns are can help both of you come up with strategies for studying and reducing stress.
As you talk with your child, try not to let his anxiety make you feel anxious. If you’re calm, it can help your child stay calm, too.
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.”)
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.
Your child’s learning strengths can help you figure out how he feels comfortable studying. He may like using flashcards. Or maybe he prefers moving around while he recites facts. Work with your child to come up with a study method that feels right for him. You can also ask your child’s teacher for ideas, based on her experience with your child.
Consider creating a homework station, too. Having an organized, consistent study space may help your child feel more at ease with studying and preparing for tests.
Some kids may have test anxiety because they don’t understand the basics of taking tests. Going over simple strategies can help. Remind him to first read through the questions carefully. Next, he can think, “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. He can go back to it later.
Giving honest and specific praise can remind your child that he can have success 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 he’s working hard on preparing for a test, let him know. Hearing this can help him approach tests with more confidence. Praise his efforts on daily homework and activities outside of school, too. This can help him remember past successes when he’s feeling anxious.
You can also take a look at other ways to boost your child’s confidence before a test.
If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan that includes accommodations on tests, remind him what they are and that they’re available. Knowing his supports are in place may help him feel more at ease. If he’s using an accommodation for the first time, talk him through how it will help him during a test.
If your child doesn’t have an IEP or a 504 plan, consider talking to his teacher about informal supports that could help. And make sure the teacher is aware that your child gets anxious about tests. She might be willing to sit down with him before a test and reassure him. It can help your child feel less anxious if he knows the teacher understands and is supportive.
Not getting enough sleep can affect how your child feels 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, such as eggs or oatmeal.
Talking to your child about how he handled tests can help him feel more in control. After a test, ask him how it went. Did he feel prepared? Was there anything he wishes he’d studied more or harder? (You can also talk about this when he gets the graded test back.) This can help him learn to make his 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.” Taking action can help him feel more in control of the situation. And that could reduce test anxiety going forward.
Studying can be extra challenging for grade-schoolers with dyslexia. But grade school is when they need to build strong study skills and habits before the stakes get higher in middle school. These tips can help make the process easier.
There are many reasons grade-schoolers with learning and attention issues may rush through homework. Kids with executive functioning issues and ADHD may be especially prone to speeding through assignments. But there are ways you can help your child slow down. Try these strategies.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Rayma Griffin, M.Ed., has spent 40 years working with children with learning and attention issues in the classroom and as an administrator.
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