Anxiety is a normal emotion and is healthy at times. Everyone feels anxious at one point or another. However, sometimes people feel severe anxiety that prevents them from completing menial, everyday tasks.
One common situation that triggers this type of anxiety, particularly in students, is standardized testing, exams or quizzes. Aimee Drescher, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Mercy Health walks us through why test taking anxiety occurs as well as tips for helping your child deal with it.
Why do some students feel anxious about tests and exams?
Tests taking evaluates our knowledge or skill set. Therefore, the fear of failure or messing up an opportunity is what can trigger a student’s fight-flight-or-freeze response.
“A healthy dose of nerves will get us moving and motivate us to study and be prepared,” says Dr. Drescher. “However, if we do not have the tools to effectively cope with anxiety, it can easily become overwhelming and prevent us from doing exactly what will prepare us to succeed.”
Tips for dealing with test taking anxiety
You’ve probably heard the more popular tips for coping with anxiety such as working out and getting plenty of sleep.
“Deep-breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness, being prepared and reaching out when you need help are some ways that we can all cope with feelings of anxiety,” says Dr. Drescher.
However, when it comes to test taking anxiety, young students aren’t always able to recognize their tendencies are unhealthy. Fortunately, there are a variety of techniques parents can use to help their children deal with this type of stress.
During the academic year, motivate your child to succeed in school. However, also remind them that they don’t need to perform perfectly and that making mistakes is a great way to learn.
Developing a consistent study routine with your child will help them develop time management skills. It will also help them avoid stress from trying to cram their studying in at the last minute.
Parents with multiple children should also keep in mind that each child is different. A tactic that motivates one child may be overwhelming for another. Be sure to tailor your parenting styles to account for these differences in personality, temperament and behavioral tendencies.
And finally, there is often a stigma around mental health which sometimes prevents individuals from getting the help they need. However, getting objective feedback – whether that be from a teacher, school counselor or a clinician – can provide much needed clarity.
“It will never hurt to get a child evaluated if there are concerns. If a child is displaying behaviors indicative of more severe anxiety, then we can get them help early on,” says Dr. Drescher. “And if their behaviors fall in a normal range, then parents can hopefully walk away with some tools to help their child and also some peace of mind.”
Learn about the behavioral and mental health services offered at Mercy Health.