Test Anxiety

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
October 14, 2021

We have all been in situations where we were under evaluation. In these situations, a moderate amount stress is quite normal. A little nervousness or "butterflies" can be good. It may spring us into action and motivate us to reach higher levels of success. However, for some individuals, this normal anxiety is much more intense and can be so strong as to greatly affect concentration and performance.

Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. This is a feeling that one may have when in a situation where performance really counts or the pressure is on to do well. More directly, test anxiety involves severe distress before, during, and/or after the exam which limits the ability to do your best work. Individuals may "blank" or "freeze" during tests. The anxiety can be so severe that individuals feel as though they may pass out or throw up. Test anxiety is often caused from a fear of failure, poor test history, or lack of test preparation.

Fortunately, test anxiety can be managed. Students who have test anxiety are eager to perform well, but need a little assistance. Parents and educators working together with youth when they sense a problem with test anxiety can ease the strain and help them cope with test time in order to reach success. Here are some strategies to relieve the stress:

  • Help your child be as prepared as possible. Promote good study habits. Have your child study in smaller increments of time and over a few days in advance of the test. Helpful study techniques include regular reviews of the material, looking up unknown words, using flashcards, taking practice tests, and using multimedia video clips. Creating a system of rewards and reasonable expectations for studying can be effective.
  • Develop effective test-taking strategies. These include reading each question carefully, answering the test questions you know first and then going back to more difficult ones, using a process of elimination for tough multiple choice items, and using an outline for essay items.
  • Teach your child to keep a positive attitude and be confident in his or her abilities. Children will be less anxious if they focus on positive thoughts and stay relaxed. For example, help your child replace negative thoughts, such as "I will never pass the test" to "I have prepared for the test. I will do my best. I have a good chance of passing." Remind your child that no matter what happens with any test, he or she is a wonderful, worthwhile individual who is deeply loved.
  • Promote healthy practices. Ensure that your child gets enough sleep, eats healthfully, exercises regularly, and has some personal time. This helps to relieve stress, boost energy level, and maintain focus.
  • Consider encouraging your child to use expressive writing to reduce negative thoughts. With this technique, youth spend a short amount of time prior to a test writing down their thoughts and feelings about the test. This may allow youth to off-load their worries onto the page as a means of freeing up brain power for the test.
  • Teach relaxation exercises. Have your child practice taking slow, deep breaths while picturing a calm place, and consciously relaxing his or her muscles, one at a time. Encourage your child to use this skill if feeling anxiety before or during the test.
  • Have your child take a short break when necessary.
  • Encourage your child to seek out help with test anxiety when needed. You as the parent, a teacher, or a support person in the school such as the school counselor, school psychologist, or school social worker can serve as a useful resource in providing assistance.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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