Test Anxiety - How You Can Help Your Child

February 10, 2017


Even though I’ve lived in Texas for only one complete school year, that’s all I needed to realize how serious the public schools take the preparation, administration, and reporting of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The stakes are high for the students and administration.  For example, fifth and eighth grade students are required to pass the STAAR exams to be able to progress to middle or high school.  The outcomes of the STAAR are also used to calculate the quality and ranking of each school and district throughout the state.

Given the emphasis placed on the outcomes of these exams, it’s not surprising some children experience anxiety on test days.

Test anxiety can affect children in a variety of ways, some obvious, others not so obvious. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) www.adaa.org identifies three kinds of symptoms:

Physical: nausea, sweating, headache, shortness of breath, cramps, faintness, tension, and diarrhea can all manifest as signs of anxiety. In extreme cases, panic attacks are possible.
Emotional: helplessness, fear, anger, and disappointment. These emotions strongly interfere with the ability to concentrate and trust instincts.
Cognitive or behavioral: Racing thoughts or mental blank-outs are common

As you probably suspect, test anxiety in K-12 students impacts more than just the score of the test.  In some cases, it can have a negative effect on the physical and mental wellbeing.  The worst part is that when a child does poorly because of test anxiety, it reinforces future anxiety and dissatisfactory performance.

While not properly studying for a test can cause anxiety, there are also mental and physical triggers that can hinder your child on test day. Let’s see how to combat the causes.

Unfamiliarity with the test and material:

The more you can find out about a test, the better.  Knowing the kinds of questions, and the content on topics can help your child focus study efforts. Creating a study schedule can relieve doubts and improve time management. Identifying areas which the student feels most and least prepared helps.

A great resource to find study materials for every subject, including the STAAR, is the website, www.teacherspayteachers.com.  Most of the outstanding materials are free or cost only a couple dollars.

Sabotaging thoughts:

Negative thoughts can surface before studying has even begun. Help your child feel that passing the test is achievable. Address negative thoughts individually. If your child believes they’ll do poorly because of prior results, work with them on a new study strategy. If they feel overwhelmed by the material, helping with practice questions can build confidence.

Physical wellbeing:

Muscle tension, exhaustion, hunger, and too much sugar can take a toll on your child. These symptoms can result from a long study session the night before. Studying along the way can help avoid last-minute studying. Emphasize the importance of sleep, exercise, and nutrition the day before and morning of the test.

Distractions:

It’s helpful to minimize distractions like avoiding restrictive clothes and wearing layers for temperature adjustment. There are things they can’t control. However, they may be able to sit away from high-traffic areas. A mantra might help focusing, like “This is manageable” or “I’m OK.” – especially if they used it studying to form a connection between the mantra and focusing on the material.

While there’s no magic cure for test anxiety, it is possible to overcome. Reinforcing your child’s efforts with positivity, flexibility, and support will help him or her find success.

Jeanine Roddy, M.A., CCC-SLP
Frisco Feeding & Speech Therapy

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