Test Anxiety: How to Recognize and Address It
We often hear about test anxiety, something that some students in cyber charter schools and brick-and-mortar models struggle with! In this blog post, we'll explore what test anxiety actually is, what you should be looking for to spot it, and ways to help your child address it.
Testing season is upon us, and during April and May, students across the state will be taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams and Keystone exams.
For some students, testing is just a normal part of attending school. For others, the idea causes apprehension or even panic attacks. In this blog, I’ll share some symptoms and behaviors of testing anxiety that will help you recognize it, and share some ways to address these concerns!
What is Anxiety?
Your student studied all week and read every word of the textbook. They blink and the test is in front of them. Here comes the heartbeat in their ears, sweaty palms and racing mind. Suddenly they’re sifting through the pages of the test, hoping to find a familiar question or two. Nothing. Why are there so many questions? Why do all of these answer choices look the same? Did we even learn about this? What if they fail?
Your child may be experiencing test anxiety. But what exactly is it?
The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as an emotion. This emotion is related to tension and worry, along with increased blood pressure and other physical changes.
Unfortunately, these restless feelings are becoming more prevalent in children. In a meta analysis by JAMA Pediatrics, 20.5% of youth worldwide experienced anxiety symptoms in the post-COVID world. This increase in numbers can be related to the pandemic, where isolation and change collided on their worlds. Other causes of anxiety in children include strong fears and stressors that they struggle to outgrow. And in the United States, from 2016-2020, youth and adolescents saw an increase in diagnosed anxiety and depression — to the tune of 29% for anxiety and 27% for depression.
What to Look For
So it’s no wonder that we see anxiety crop up during times of increased pressure, such as testing season! When it comes to anxiety, there is no one way to spot it in all students. For example, if your child has an easy going temperament and is not usually nervous about schoolwork, it may be more challenging to spot test anxiety. Let’s review a few signs that Dr. Golda Ginsburg describes in her "Speaking of Psychology" podcast with the American Psychological Association.
Does your child habitually complain of headaches or stomach aches when there isn’t a medical cause?
After talking with your child, do they have frequent feelings of fear and danger related to school or home situations?
Are there patterns of avoidance? Perhaps your child avoids going to school, or clings to you in fear of losing you.
So how do these relate to test taking? Test anxiety is considered a “performance anxiety.” This becomes most evident when a student feels pressured to do well in a specific situation. Nemours Teen Health describes a few other symptoms that are specific to test anxiety:
- Feeling shaky and sweaty;
- Racing heartbeat;
- Butterflies, stomach issues, or headaches;
- Change in sleep patterns;
- Lack of appetite.
What Anxiety Isn't
While it is logical to point out what anxiety is, it’s also important for parents to understand some common assumptions about anxiety, and point out that anxiety — including test anxiety — is not necessarily reflective of these concepts or traits! Anxiety is very complex.
Anxiety is NOT:
- Attention seeking/selfish;
When your child is anxious, it’s more vital than ever to let them know they have your support, and to help them find healthy ways to get through this challenging time!
How to Address Test Anxiety
Are the symptoms all too familiar to you? Let’s touch on how you can help your child.
- Acknowledging that your child may have test anxiety is a major step! Dismissing it can be damaging, so it’s extremely important for you as the parent to acknowledge their concerns, while helping them find solutions.
- Have them articulate what concerns them most. (And remember — to them, this is a very real, fight-or-flight fear!)
- Be sure your child knows what YOUR expectations are as a parent — to do their best, however that looks for them! Students look up to their parents, so if you expect perfection, they will strive for it (and, because perfection is impossible, struggle to achieve it).
- Map out a plan together on how to conquer test prep and test day. Have them take an active role in their success, so they can learn to cope with the feelings independently.
- Encourage them with real, positive affirmations. This includes:
Empowering Them to Confront Their Fears
There’s a myth still floating around that cyber school students don’t socialize. That’s simply not true!
- Mazimize Studying Over Time
This includes chunking studies into manageable pieces, and creating studying routines over the course of the month. Typically, you must practice memorizing something a certain number of times in order for it to stick.
- Encourage Your Child to Look at Concepts With a New Lens
Often students need to use their own unique learning style to enhance their understanding.
- Support Routines at Home
This can optimize the amount of time studying, healthy eating habits, and consistent sleeping patterns.
- Collaborate With Your Student and Provide the Extra Assistance They Need
It’s understandable that you have a busy day, but talking out their studies can make a world of a difference.
- Create confidence in your child by providing positive statements that they can tell themselves on test day.
- Host a Study Group!
Allow your student to work with their peers and talk out their thoughts and studies.
- Transport Your Student to a Local Library
This quieter, peaceful environment can assist their learning while calming their fears.
- Listen to Your Student and Act as a Student Yourself
To grow confident, many benefit from teaching new material to others. You, or a sibling can play this very important role.
Test taking doesn’t have to be a traumatic time for your child! We all get concerned at presentations, major projects, deadlines, and other stressful situations — and test taking is no different! These tips and strategies can help you and your child ease test anxiety, and help them think more clearly leading up to and on the day of the exam. We wish you and your child the best as you enter testing season!
About the Author: Amy Dajczak is a kindergarten teacher at PA Virtual.