9 Tips for Helping Grade-Schoolers Cope With Test Anxiety
Lexi Walters Wright
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 your child what’s making him 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 him 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 him 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 for him.
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.
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.
6. Boost his confidence.
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.
If your child has an
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.
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.