Medical Reviewer: Trager Hintze, PharmD

The average student takes hundreds of tests during their school years, ranging from short pop quizzes to college entrance exams. It’s normal to feel nervous before and during a test, especially for high-stakes assessments like a final exam or the SAT. But for many students, this nervousness develops into debilitating test anxiety.

Experts estimate that between 20 and 40% of students experience test anxiety. This condition can affect students cognitively, emotionally, and even physically. Test anxiety can also lead to poor academic performance, creating a destructive cycle of anxious test-taking and low grades. If your child is an anxious test taker, you can help them learn how to deal with test anxiety and develop stronger studying skills.

What Causes Test Anxiety in Children?

Numerous factors can cause students to develop test taking anxiety, including :

  • Attaching self-worth to grades and test scores
  • Comparisons between the child and other students
  • Competitive school environments
  • External stressors unrelated to the test, like conflict at home or illness
  • Failure to master course materials before the exam
  • Fear of disappointing parents or teachers
  • Lack of knowledge about what the test will cover
  • Perceived importance of the test
  • Perfectionism
  • Previous negative experiences taking exams
  • Self-doubt
  • Unproductive study habits

Gender can also impact test anxiety. One study found that female students were significantly more likely to report high test anxiety levels than their male peers.

Emotional, Behavioral, and Physical Symptoms of Test Anxiety

It can be challenging for parents to distinguish between normal pre-test jitters and test anxiety. Monitoring your child for common signs of test anxiety can help you determine if they have this condition.

Your child may experience behavioral, emotional, and physical test anxiety symptoms, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Catastrophic thinking
  • Daydreaming while taking an exam
  • Feelings of worry and uneasiness
  • Headache
  • Hyperawareness of nearby distractions
  • Impaired memory
  • Intrusive thoughts during the test
  • Mild nausea
  • Negative thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Tension

In severe cases, test anxiety can cause symptoms like:

  • Fainting
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Panic attacks
  • Vomiting

A healthcare professional can assess your child’s anxiety levels using the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale. This method uses 44 questions to measure children’s anxiety levels and determine if they need professional help.

Girl sitting at a desk in front of computer chewing on a pencil

How To Alleviate Your Child's Test Anxiety

Many anxious test takers feel embarrassed and reluctant to seek help from their parents and school staff. Other children may not be aware that they can take steps to reduce their distress. Research shows that 65% of students with test anxiety have never sought any help for their condition.

Without treatment, test anxiety can lead to poor performance in school. Highly anxious test takers score 12 percentile points lower than low-anxiety students and also drop out of school more frequently.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies that you can use to help your child overcome their test anxiety and succeed academically.

Help Them Study Their Notes

Teaching your child effective studying methods is one of the best approaches to reduce test anxiety. Here are a few ways that you can help your child review their notes before an exam:

  • Arrange for tutoring. Consider hiring a private tutor to help your child with their most challenging subject. For example, if your child has math anxiety, a few sessions with an expert math tutor can allow them to develop confidence and stronger math skills.
  • Organize a study group. You can help your child form a study group with classmates and friends. Research demonstrates that consistently meeting with a study group fosters a supportive peer learning environment, helps students develop productive study skills, and improves academic performance.
  • Use practice exams. Many websites offer free practice problems and worksheets. You can use these resources to find or create practice exams for the topics your child is studying. Simulating tests at home can help your student evaluate their readiness for the test, master concepts, and rehearse calm test-taking behaviors in a safe environment.

These simple techniques can significantly decrease test anxiety by helping your child feel more prepared and supported by their family and peers.

Research Strategies for Strengthening Their Test-Taking Skills

You can also aid your anxious test taker by researching techniques to improve test-taking skills. For example, your child can use these practical approaches to conquer their next exam:

  • Quickly skim all exam questions to get a sense of what material the test covers
  • Review the instructions for each section carefully before answering questions
  • Determine how much time you should spend on each section to avoid rushing or running out of time
  • Answer the easiest questions first
  • When answering multiple choice questions, cross out obviously wrong answers to narrow down your choices
  • Provide specific examples when responding to short-answer and essay questions
  • Don’t leave any questions blank
  • Double-check your answers before submitting

These tips can help your student complete exams more accurately and efficiently.

Encourage Getting a Goodnight's Sleep and Eating a Healthy Breakfast

Healthy behaviors can help your student succeed in the classroom and decrease test anxiety. Numerous studies suggest that inadequate sleep can lead to poor academic performance and reduced concentration during exams. Encouraging your child to get sufficient sleep in the days leading up to a big test can improve their cognitive processing, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Eating a nutritious breakfast can also greatly impact your child’s learning and test-taking abilities. One study found that middle school students who ate a healthy breakfast daily performed significantly stronger academically than peers who didn’t eat breakfast routinely.

Nurture Their Self-Esteem

Nurturing your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem can help them cope better with academic challenges and personal setbacks. Techniques that you can use to help your child develop a positive self-image include:

  • Acknowledging negative emotions
  • Providing authentic, unexaggerated praise
  • Not talking down about yourself
  • Rewarding effort, not results
  • Showing interest in your child’s passions
  • Teaching self-comfort strategies like journaling

Help Your Child Prepare for Their Tests With Tutoring Sessions

Testing in schools can cause significant student anxiety. If your child feels distressed or nervous during exams, the skilled math and physics tutors at Alexander Tutoring can help. Our unique tutoring philosophy emphasizes compassion, confidence, and respect. We’ll teach your child constructive test anxiety tips and help them develop a newfound love for learning.