As a teacher and counselor working in high schools, one of the primary reasons teens would come talk to me was about text anxiety. The story was always pretty similar: They paid attention in class, they took notes, they studied all night long, but on the day of the test their minds just went blank and they couldn’t recall anything they studied. As a result, their grades were suffering.
I’m going to talk about a few strategies that might help alleviate some of the anxiety on test day, but before we get to that I would encourage teens who struggle with test anxiety and their parents to reflect on a few questions. Is testing the only place that anxiety pops up? While it’s possible this is an isolated case of test anxiety, I would imagine it’s likely that anxiety is manifesting in other areas too. It’s important to figure out what is at the root of that anxiety to truly address it. Does performance trigger it? Is so, is your teen also anxious at sporting events, recitals, or other places they might be on the spot to “prove themselves?” Is it perhaps tied to perfectionism? Is your teen worried about getting less than a perfect grade and disappointing themselves or others? Are they engaging in unhealthy black and white thinking (i.e. “I never do well on math tests.” “I always suck at writing essays.”)? Take some time to talk to your teen about what they are worried about during testing and delve a little deeper than just the fear of failing the test. What makes failing so scary to them?
Strategies to Tackle Test Anxiety
• Study consistently over a long period of time. No cramming the night before.
• Exercise consistently the week before the test. Exercise reduces stress and will translate to less anxiety the day of the test.
• Avoid engaging in conversations with classmates who discuss how hard the test will be, how they feel they will fail, etc.
• In fact, the night before the test, stop studying around 8pm. Drink some tea, take a hot shower, read a book or listen to calm music and get a full 8+ hours of sleep.
• Eat breakfast and/or lunch before the test.
• Get to class early, so you don’t worry about running late.
• Practice Square Breathing. Trace a square in the air or on your knee (if you’re sitting down.) For each side of the square inhale (1…2….3…4….) Trace the square again and exhale for four counts (1…2….3…4…) Keep doing this for as many in and out breaths as you need.
• Skim through the test to get a good idea of how you’ll need to pace yourself.
• Go through the test and answer the questions you know first- this will build up confidence.
• Skip questions that you don’t know and come back to them if you have time.
• Reward yourself after the test: Go get a snack, see a movie with friends or do something else you like. This will reinforce positive associations with the test.
• Remind yourself that it is only a test, you did the very best you could and that is good enough.
To learn more about Jamie and her approach to working with teens, or to schedule an appointment with her, visit: http://coloradoteentherapy.com/meet-our-team/