Test Anxiety and Teens: When Students Feel Pressure to Perform

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What are the Causes of Test Anxiety?

In the past several years, schools have been increasingly under the gun to raise student achievement. High stakes testing has become a way of life for most students and teachers. The pressure to do well on these tests, and to achieve academic success in general, is impacting students at younger and younger ages. Unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, lack of confidence, and poor skills can also contribute.

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What are the Signs of Test Anxiety?

Students who feel the pressure may exhibit it through problems sleeping or eating, showing general nervousness, or attempting to avoid school or schoolwork. Obsessing over a test, frenzied studying, an inability to focus, or experiencing a sensation of the mind “going blank” during a test are also common.

What Strategies Can Lessen Test Anxiety?

Here are some ideas that may help your child:

Before the Test

  • Know the test. Check with the teacher to make sure you know what material will be covered, and that you have all the notes and other materials you will need to adequately prepare.
  • Implement an effective study plan. Space study sessions out over several days rather than cramming the night before. Use a variety of study strategies, and enlist the help of parents, siblings, or friends to quiz you on trouble spots.
  • Use practice tests. Construct practice tests covering the test material. Use the same format your teacher will be using for the real test. Use test taking strategies and simulate testing conditions much as possible to get yourself used to them. The more experience you have, the less anxious you are apt to be during the real test.
  • Use good coping skills. Find ways to de-stress that take your mind off your studies, at least temporarily. Take breaks from studying, have a snack, or get some physical exercise.
  • Prepare physically. Get a good nights rest the night before a test, and be sure to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning. You won’t perform at your best if you are tired or hungry.
  • Put things in perspective. Avoid a perfectionist attitude about academic performance. Impossible expectations can increase stress levels and have a negative impact on achievement. Parents and teachers also need to model more realistic goals for test performance.

During the Test

  • Take it slow. Don’t rush through the test. Take one question at a time: cover the remaining test with a piece of paper if necessary to keep you from getting distracted or overwhelmed. Leave harder questions to come back to later, and make sure you read directions, questions, and possible answers carefully.
  • Try positive self talk. Negative thoughts and beliefs can become self fulfilling prophecies. Try replacing these with more positive affirmations that support and encourage your efforts.
  • Use stress reduction techniques. When you feel your stress level increasing, stop and relax. Take some deep breaths, try some muscle relaxation, or visualize yourself leaving the testing room afterwards feeling confident and in control.
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