It is a very busy time of year in local schools. ISTEP and ILEARN have taken over the past couple of months. Finals and end-of-year exams will closely follow. These tests can bring about a lot of pressure and stress for our students.
Learning how to manage that stress is important as students face these testing demands from year to year. These tests often heighten anxiety, which we know is something that affects children on a regular basis.
When we look at test anxiety in particular it’s not all bad. We want our children to have some anxiety and nervousness that will push them to perform and take testing seriously. But for some kids, their fears kick in and overwhelm them, which can lead to irrational thinking and powerful physical symptoms of anxiety.
“Anxiety has the potential to shut you down,” explains 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.”
Your overall ability to perform and think clearly when the test is in front of you is diminished. Add on the time restraint of a test, and you have a recipe for feeling out of control and helpless.
When thinking about how to best help your child it’s important to listen. You don’t want to dismiss their fears and worries by saying things like, “It’s not that big of a deal” or “Quit worrying.” Instead, spend time with them and help them rationalize a plan to feel more in control.
Tips for students:
• Control what you can control. Spend your time learning how to manage your physical symptoms, practicing positive self-talk, and preparing to the best of your ability.
• Manage your physical symptoms. Anxiety often manifests through physical symptoms, and we know the body and mind are connected. Identify what physical symptoms you experience and work to calm your body through deep breathing and visualization techniques. Practice this at home before you start studying. Close your eyes, focus on concentrating on your breath, and feel your body relax and your physical symptoms slow down.
• Practice positive self-talk. Your attitude will reflect your performance. If the words you are preparing with are, “I’m a failure,” “I might as well not even try,” or “I can’t do anything right,” your performance will match that. Work on developing new habits around how you talk to yourself. Replace those thoughts with things like, “I am prepared for this,” “I will do my best,” and “I am in control.”
• Prepare and study. When you know you have a test coming up, spend time each day studying a little bit at a time. It is not effective to cram the night before and expect the information to stay in your memory. Spending time mastering sections in small doses will definitely aid in the comprehension of the material and not just memorizing. Also, think about the test format the teacher uses and study with that in mind. Make practice tests or flashcards that match that style.
Talk to your kids about how they can be at their best when taking a test. Test anxiety is real, but it can be managed and controlled by using the above tips.
This column is written by Laura Arrick, LCSW, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 55 Master’s level social workers to 76 schools in 10 Indiana counties. Over 38,000 youth and families per year have access to Youth First’s school social work and afterschool programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.