How to help your child manage testing anxiety

Taking tests is part of education – and life. Few people actually look forward to exams, but for some people their fear of tests can be debilitating.

In order to do well at school, and get the qualifications they need for the career they want, your child needs to be able to manage their anxiety around testing. But this can be easier said than done.

To help you find out how your child feels about tests – and why – and give them practical strategies to cope with their fears, we’ve put together some advice for you.

Use practice tests

Practice tests are like mock tests but designed to be easier to use and more useful.

There are different types of tests that kids must take, so it’s worth practicing for each of them. For example, in the case of a cognitive ability test, here are four different practice tests they can take. They cover areas like getting better at verbal communication, working through complex problems in a mature way to get the right result, and more. 

By using resources like these NAPLAN practice test packs and taking practice tests, children can get more comfortable with the real thing. They feel like they’ve already done something similar, so it removes their nervousness. We all fear what we don’t know or don’t understand, so this helps with that worry. 

Talk through what worries your child about tests

Most children, when going on a car journey, will frequently ask, “Are we there yet?” That’s because they want more information and control over what’s happening in their lives. And this very human and understandable need extends to tests. 

So talk with them about tests and try to find out why they get tense about them. Encourage them to explain in their own words what bothers them so much. Then try to break these reasons down to see if you can help with their fears. Also, consider if there’s something deeper going on. 

Find out of they’re still worried about a previous poor outcome

Sometimes their fear has a logical source. For example, they may have had a previous poor experience with testing. Maybe you knew that they’d found a test difficult, or they got bad results, but you weren’t aware of how much it affected them; children don’t always verbalise their fears.

Just like adults, children can become fixated on a single event, and globalise that event. So one bad test can mean, to them, that ‘I’m very bad at tests’ or ‘all tests are difficult and I will struggle to answer them’.

Unlike adults, children don’t have years of life experience to put a single event into broader context, so if they perform poorly on their first ever test, it’s understandable that they would use this information to form an opinion of testing as a whole.

When you know how they feel, you can help them come to terms with a bad experience, and put it into a wider context. You can also reassure them that just because they didn’t do well at one test does not mean that every test will be the same.

This is also a good reason why practice tests are a good idea. You can give them more experience of the testing process without the pressure of a live test in school. This will enable them to see that not all tests are the same, and that they can perform well.

Help them avoid overwhelm

From walking into an exam room and turning over their paper and seeing the test for the first time, to worrying whether they’ll have enough time to complete all the questions, there are many stages of taking a test that can cause anxiety in a child.

So rather than your child fear the experience as a whole, think about the experience as being similar to a longer writing task of 2,000 words, which is better to breakdown to eight 250-word sections.

Seeing ‘taking a test’ as a series of small stages to tackle makes it far less daunting. One technique that can help is for them to cover up questions they haven’t got to yet, and only look at and work on one question at a time. You could talk to the teacher to get their cooperation and to see if this is a workable solution. 

Take your child with you when you take a test

Children take their cues from adults around them – especially their parents. They watch how you respond to situations, and can learn both fear and coping strategies from you.

So if you have a test coming up, take your child with you if you can. They’ll see how you manage the day, your stress levels, and the whole process. Talk them through how you keep clear-headed, calm, and thinking clearly. 

Focus on what you do to avoid getting anxious and not put too much pressure on yourself. It will help them better understand how to process their feelings and remain in control. 

Taking tests is something that we all must learn how to do successfully in life. So the more you can help your child to manage their anxiety and learn strategies to deal with stress, the better.