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Test Anxiety is an Opportunity

By Ryan M. Tracy

girlSomething that is popping up in many of our interactions with parents in Tennessee is the idea that their student has test anxiety.  Whether parents like it or not, when they hear what it takes to go to college or even receive college scholarships, the reality is that part of how children are getting into great schools and receiving scholarships is often determined by test scores. 

But what is also a reality is that if we don’t recognize the anxiety that our students have and deal with on a regular basis in testing, we might be missing a great opportunity.   What I am afraid of that I often hear parents doing in our sessions, is making excuses for their children when it comes to testing and test anxiety.

While I am not saying tests are the end all be all to a child’s life, testing is where a parent can help a child tackle a challenging life experience (the test) and begin to see tests not as a hindrance, but as an opportunity to overcome.  The more a child sees testing as an opportunity and not a “drag,” the better a student excels at taking tests. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel good and gain confidence in myself after I have prepared a presentation or delivered information to a group of people, overcome any fears that I have and receive a positive evaluation back from it.  I remember the students and graduate students in my classes through school who always seemed to do really well on the tests we were given regularly, and their attitudes towards their testing was of confidence and they always rose to the occasion.  So to me, as long as I can remember, it wasn’t the test that was so intimidating in school as it was the “build up” to it and my own approach and attitude to how I would or would not conquer the “test” that was put before me either brought about confidence or anxiety.

Realistically, many of us have anxieties about a lot of things.  And while many folks might not, like me, connect tests to life, if our children are having anxiety about test taking, how can we help them overcome that anxiety and learn valuable lessons that when their life is tough or when they are required to meet expectations in the future, they can face them with tools that lead to success and confidence. 

You see, anxiety is the fear that something bad might happen and as I have learned it is rarely the fear of something that is life-thretening. Anxiety is usually the fear of the unknown; in other words, anxiety is fear provoked by one's own mind.  So what we have to help children realize is that if they can see the test not as something that is dangerous, but as something they can face head on, what other challenges will this translate to in their lives? 

I’m not saying test taking is the only way we can help teach children how to overcome their fears, but it really is good way, I think.  While I wholeheartedly believe that students must be prepared and have studied hard to reach their fullest potential on a test, I also realize and suffer from anxiety about a lot of things in my own life and recognize there are techniques that children can learn to overcoming test anxieties:  The American School Counselor Association suggests these 6 things parents can discuss with their students when it comes to test anxiety:


  1. Practice the neutral tool: When you have uncomfortable feelings about whether you will do well on the test, practice the neutral tool. It’s important to catch negative mind loops that reinforce self-doubt or uncomfortable feelings.

  2. Address the what-if questions: A lot of times before we have to do something like take a test, much of the anxiety we feel is a build-up from negative "what-if" thoughts. What if I fail, what if I can't remember anything, or what if I run out of time. Try writing a what-if question that is positive and can help you take the big deal out of the situation and begin to see things in a different way.

  3. Think good thoughts: Science is showing that good feelings like appreciation can actually help your brain work better. When you feel nervous or anxious, try this. You can do it as many times as you need to or want to. Remember something that makes you feel good. Maybe it is your pet or how you felt when you got a big hug from your mom, or how you felt after a super fun day at the amusement park with your friends.

  4. Get enough sleep: Big tests require a lot of energy and stamina to be able to focus for several hours. Make sure you get at least eight-10 hours of sleep the night before the test.

  5. Have fun: Do something fun the night before to take your mind off the test, like see a movie, play a board game with your family or participate in a sports activity. That way your mind and emotions are more relaxed in the time leading up to the test.

  6. Eat a hearty breakfast: The brain needs a lot of energy to maintain focus on a big test for several hours. Eat a hearty and healthy breakfast, including complex carbohydrates and protein to make your energy last as long as possible. Foods such as eggs, cereal and whole-wheat toast help energize your brain to think more clearly and much longer compared with the fast-disappearing bolt of energy from drinking a soda pop or eating a cookie for breakfast.


I also have found this test taking website, full of test ideas, helpful provided by the U.S. Department of Education.  Let’s not run or be fearful of test taking for the sake of keeping our children safe, instead, let’s be bold and help our children learn how to face test taking with confidence and dignity. 

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Posted on September 19, 2012 by Ryan M. Tracy

Ryan is the Tennessee Family Engagement Manager for Stand for Children, a grassroots national advocacy organization. He designs and implements family engagement programs and is currently a leader in the organization's 10-week Stand UP (University for Parents) which focuses on curriculum of the home and school. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , Character Development, Learning environment, Study Skills

Posted September 19, 2012 by rick ackerly
All good disciplines to practice--and any opportunity to practice them is just fine. 


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