Inside: How you can identify teen test anxiety and help them overcome it
For the last two weeks, my daughter has been counting down the days until she has to take her finals for freshman year. Not because she’s excited for the test but because she dreads them.
She’s a good student, and we do not pressure her about her grades. But she puts the pressure on herself.
Each night, I’ve watched her do review sheets and practice tests. I’ve seen her use apps and she’s gone early for review sessions. And her finals won’t even impact her grades that much.
Why are teens so anxious about tests?
By the time teens enter high school, they have already been inundated with tests. Assessments, state benchmarking, classroom testing, finals, and midterms are only a few ways our students face crushing academic pressure.
With this kind of focus put on preparing for these kinds of tests, it’s no wonder by the time our kids are teens, it can cause serious anxiety.
The psychological effects of too much test taking are becoming clearer as estimates suggest 20% of students suffer from severe test-taking anxiety, and another 18% may suffer from more moderate stress-related conditions.
There is so much academic pressure on our tweens and teens today.
Once they reach high school, the stress is immense as they’re led to believe that their futures depend on their ability to get the best grades and the best test scores. They often build their schedule filled with honors and AP classes that take up most of their free time, and some even base their self-esteem on their academic performance.
Mid-terms and finals have a significant impact on their grade point average. College entrance and AP exams play an outsized role in the paths available to them as adults. It’s not surprising our teenagers are struggling.
Symptoms of Teen Test Anxiety
Many factors contribute to test anxiety. Students may fear failure, have a history of poor performance on tests, or have other conditions that predispose them, such as ADHD or other learning challenges.
For some young people, they will always have a little nervousness before taking a test. For others, it can be a crippling experience that could lead to a panic attack or breakdown.
Whatever the underlying reason, any of the following physical symptoms could signal your teen has test-taking anxiety:
- stomach pains, nausea or vomiting
- excessive sweating
- rapid heartbeat
- dizziness or fainting spells
- shortness of breath
- restlessness or fidgeting
- difficulty concentrating
You may also see emotional symptoms that include:
If You’re Worried About Your Teenager’s Mental Health
We can’t change the system that our kids are growing up in, as much as we wish we could. But we can help with teen test anxiety and provide the support and tools they need to manage the stress and anxiety testing creates.
*Note: if you feel like your child’s behavior has changed significantly, or you are concerned they may be at risk of hurting themselves or others, be sure to contact a doctor or mental health therapist immediately.
The suggestions below are a good place to start when it comes to teen text anxiety but keep in mind that this can be a symptom of a larger underlying issue.
How to treat teen test anxiety
You may hear the phrase, “I’m not a good test taker” a lot, but often what that means is “I’m very anxious when taking a test and can’t focus.”The suggestions below are a good place to start when it comes to teen text anxiety, but keep in mind that this can be a symptom of a larger underlying issue and you should contact a professional if you feel like anxiety is impacting your child’s daily life.
Have Open Conversations About Upcoming Tests
Talk to your teenagers about their coursework and testing. Give them the space they need to share their feelings and communicate their anxieties. Help them to recognize what they are feeling and to put things into perspective in the long run. Be careful not to downplay their thoughts or belittle their concerns (keep this in mind: validate their concerns, ask questions, repeat back to them so they know you’re listening.)
Practice Good Study Habits
Help your child to develop good long-term study skills that will keep them from stressful last-minute cram sessions. Create a strategy to prepare for tests and boost their confidence in their knowledge. Enlist the help of tutors when they are struggling that can help them to get a better grasp on difficult concepts and facts. And try to get a handle on procrastination.
Find Sample Tests and Example Questions
For many, testing anxiety is rooted in not knowing what to expect from a particular exam or test. Find examples and sample tests to review and practice at home to give your teen more confidence on test day. The internet is full of information on SAT questions, state testing for graduation, and other typical exams that students may face.
Encourage Your Teen to Speak to Teachers about Test Format
If your student struggles with a specific type of test (essay, multiple choice, computer-based vs. paper-based), encourage your teen (or if needed, do it yourself) talk to teachers/school counselors about formatting options. Students with an IEP or 504 plan may be able to have accommodations added to help set them up for testing success, such as extra time. Though teachers may not have the resources to rewrite every test to every student’s personal testing style, many will be happy to help ease teen test anxiety and improve your teen’s performance.
Manage Your Teen’s Expectations
One of the hardest things for adults to remember is how enormous everything feels when you’re a teenager. Without being condescending, remind them that one score is not the end of the world. Before they sit for a test, talk about the worst-case scenario of what would happen if they completely bomb the exam. Often, a teenager merely needs to get over test performance anxiety.
Usually, there are other ways to reach educational goals, even when a big test goes poorly. Once they see that this one test is only a piece of the puzzle, teens will usually have an easier time taking things in stride and alleviating the butterflies they may feel every time they sit down to take a test.
Help Them Discover Personal Coping Techniques
Finding effective ways to cope with stress can help them deal with testing anxiety safely and healthily. Positive self-talk, mindfulness and meditation, and “fidgets” can help in working through a stressful situation like a big test. Everyone has different things that help them calm down and focus on the task at hand, so finding a coping technique that works well for them might take a little trial and error.
Practice healthy tech usage
A 2016 study of more than 450 teens found that greater social media use, nighttime social media use, and emotional investment in social media — such as feeling upset when prevented from logging on — were each linked with worse sleep quality and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
As your student ramps up to a test, consider setting some limits on their phone usage to keep their mind and emotions in check. Social media can be distracting and provide unrealistic views of others’ lives, often leading to increased anxiety.
Test-taking anxiety doesn’t have to be a life sentence
Every child has a different reaction to testing; for those with teen test anxiety, the middle and high school years can be especially difficult.
Work with your child and their teachers to find ways to reduce their anxiety and improve their performance. As with any educational success, overcoming testing anxiety is a group effort that requires work both at home and school.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some other posts that may help:
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