6 steps to take charge of test anxiety

Conquering Test Anxiety is Possible

As the school year winds down, anxiety ramps up. There is anxiety over passing to the next grade and completing projects. But most of all there is anxiety over testing.

The best way to eliminate test anxiety, is to put testing in it’s proper perspective.  In an education world where testing, test scores and data have taken on a life of it’s own, this is a difficult thing to do.  The purpose of tests is to provide information; information on what an individual student has learned and what they have not learned so that future teaching can begin from that point.

Instead tests are used to evaluate and assess teachers and even entire schools as to whether or not they are missing the mark.  Because so much is at stake, this increases everyone’s anxiety and this emotion gets passed on to students.

Parents as well can increase anxiety by putting too much emphasis on testing, rather than on the learning experience itself.  A student who values and is engaged in the learning process throughout the year will naturally be prepared for doing well on a test.  Excessive focus on tests as a gateway to the future, whether passing to the next grade or admission to the college of their dreams can create undue stress.

Given that despite our best efforts, children may become stressed out over upcoming testing, what are the best ways to deal with anxiety when it rears it’s ugly head?

Six Tips to Conquer Test Anxiety

  1. First and foremost acknowledge the feeling rather than brushing it off or providing a distraction.  Instead of, “Don’t worry.  You are so smart, you’ll do fine.”  Try, “You are worried about passing the test?  Tell me about that.” Help the child identify how he knows he is worried both physically (heart beating faster, shallow breathing for instance) and mentally (I keep thinking about not passing, blanking out answers etc.)
  2. Create a positive image of who the child wants to be going into the situation.
    1. “I want to be calm and confident.”
    2. “I want to be focused and know the answers to the test.”
  3. Teach some simple breathing skills to calm down the physical symptoms, so he can begin working on the mental skills.  Point out how calming the breathing calms the body.  An easy one is box breathing:
    1. Breathe in for 4 counts
    2. Hold for 4 counts
    3. Breathe out for 4 counts
    4. Hold for 4 counts
    5. Repeat
  4. Identify and challenge the thoughts that are creating the anxiety by providing a different thought pattern to replace the anxiety producing thoughts.  Creating a simple repeatable phrase that the child can learn and repeat when they feel the worry starting is helpful.  Instead of thinking “what if”  change the thought to “what is”.  For example instead of thinking “What if I get the test and don’t know any answers?” change the thought to “I’ve worked hard all year and I choose to be calm and confident of my ability.”
  5. Create a plan that the child can follow on his own:  “Whenever I notice I am getting stressed out, I will:
    1. Remember my positive outcome: Who I want to be.  How I want to feel.
    2. Stop and breathe
    3. Repeat my phrase
  6. Check in to make sure the plan is working and tweak the plan  if it is not.  Create a positive expectation that the anxiety is something that the child can be in charge of rather than something to avoid.


Elem Coun Stories to Learn By

Wyatt’s Little Book of Lesson Plans, Worksheets and Games

Just for you!  Here are activities, lesson plans, discussion questions, coloring sheets, word search puzzles and games for each of the nine Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books.  Over 75 pages of ideas so that you can create lessons on cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills to quickly extend and incorporate the Wyatt stories.


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