Spring is here and one of the signs of spring often includes standardized testing in public schools. For many children, that increases their stress levels and can have detrimental effects on them. Test anxiety is generally regarded as a “nervous feeling” that is excessive and interferes with student performance.
Test anxiety is a bigger problem than many parents and teachers realize. A staggering 16-20 percent of students have high test anxiety, making this the most frequent academic impairment in our schools today. When a student has a limited amount of time to take a test and knows that he processes things slowly, he’s probably going to start feeling anxious.
According to neuropsychologist Ken Schuster, “When kids are having test anxiety they can’t think clearly, they can’t judge things the way they could if they weren’t anxious. All of your other abilities get clouded up by anxiety.”
Dr. Robert Pressman, the lead researcher for New England Pediatric Psychology describes test anxiety as having three distinct components: Physiological, behavioral and psychological.
♦ Behavioral: “going blank” or having disorganized thoughts.
♦ Psychological: feeling extremely nervous, restlessness, or insecure.
♦ Physiological: Light-headed, faint, nauseous, rapid heartbeat, knot in stomach, headache, tension, sweating.
Children can exhibit stress in a variety of ways including nightmares; trouble concentrating on and completing schoolwork; increased aggression; bedwetting; hyperactive behavior; eating or sleeping disorders; withdrawing from family and friends; and overreaction to minor problems. Naturally, these reactions impact the student’s ability to take the tests and their scores as well.
Teaching kids about test anxiety will help them identify when anxiety is getting in the way of them taking a test so they can ask for help. Also, some of the symptoms associated with test anxiety, (ex. heart palpitations, racing thoughts, etc.) can be scary. When kids are aware of test anxiety symptoms, they don’t freak out as much when they occur.
Parents can help their children reduce test anxiety in a variety of ways and waiting until the week of the tests is not necessary. Parents should focus every day on the many positive things their child is already doing and tell them. This increases their sense of self-worth and self-confidence overall and that will help at test time.
Next, reinforce healthy habits by encouraging good nutrition and sleep habits on a daily basis. This will ensure they are properly rested and hydrated when test time rolls around.
When children are studying, say “no” to multitasking to minimize distractions and increase their ability to focus on the task or tasks at hand. TV and cell phones should be turned off.
Work with your child to envision success. Just as professional athletes spend time mentally rehearsing their athletic endeavor, so can your child as they see themselves taking a test with confidence and calm as they answer questions well.
Make sure your student is getting fresh air and exercise. This relaxes the body mind and spirit before tests and allows for the release of pent up anxiety.
Relaxation practices can also help kids focus. Meditation, guided imagery and relaxing each part of the body (starting at the feet and ending at the top of the head) can improve performance and bring a sense of calm. Some schools are even teaching kids to meditate, with positive results.
Reminding children that you know they will do their best is also important. This lets them know that regardless of the scores from those tests, you love them and are proud of them. That will go a long way in reducing their test anxiety.
Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant, who is a longtime resident of Cherokee County.