Final exams are coming! These benchmarks are one of the last hurdles before summer vacations for many students. The breadth and depth of these exams can be daunting and stressful. As a parent, it is hard to balance the urge to help your teen, with the need to foster their own independence. Last week, some common parental pitfalls were discussed, but now we turn to six ways to reduce a student’s test anxiety.
If you remain calm, your child has a much better chance of keeping their cool too. It will also make your advice and suggestions more effective. Deep breathing is a great tool to practice before anyone becomes anxious. As studying and stress increase, remind them to take slow, deep breaths. Once your student has mastered deep breathing, they will be able to use it on test day (and probably no one else will notice!).
Encourage your student to study early, often, in short increments, and over time. Once the material is grasped, try to practice the test under the same conditions. Is this a multiple-choice, short-answer, or essay exam? How long is the test? Now practice outputting the information. Many students freeze on tests, even when they know the material. This is often caused by studying only with information coming in, but they have not practiced expressing the information. This can start with a verbal explanation, and then move to paper, laptop, or however, the test is being administered.
Suggest to your student they use different study techniques to master the content. This could be making and using flash cards, using questioning and best guesses as to what might be on the exam, drawing pictures and other visuals in study guides, reciting facts out loud, and many others. And of course, it goes without saying, that ALL distractions should be avoided: turn off the phone and turn down the music.
Follow a schedule.
This applies to a long-term plan as well as short-term decisions. Your teen should use a calendar to map out the course of studying. It will encourage them to think about what’s important to know and when to know it. Best of all, when the schedule is followed, relaxing and free time can be enjoyed (without fretting about what other work there might be). It also helps with keeping “normal” activities and schedules intact, such as eating, sleeping, and other obligations. Rewards for solid studying can also be offered! Using a planner and paced studying will maximize retention of the information and increase motivation to repeat the process.
This is a test, a very specific test. It is not about class rank, college admission, employment, success, happiness, etc. Parents often fall into the trap of stringing these events/outcomes together in an effort to build their student’s motivation. Rather, focus on your child’s performance on this specific test. It’s not about how anyone else does on this test. Thinking about ways to motivate your student in the short term will be more powerful than pondering about the distant future. Privileges, events, and experiences in the near future can be powerful motivators for students, especially adolescents.
Process not outcome.
Many students become anxious due to previous experiences. They have tried before and sometimes come up short. Do not let prior outcomes affect their effort on the next exam. Take a look at their process (i.e., study skills, executive functioning). If they are working hard and with good strategies, praise that. Their hard work and grit will be more important than any grade.
There is no single way to reduce exam anxiety. Rather, if a student is prepared and uses various strategies, stress can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated. The strategies should be tailored to your teen and their abilities. Emphasize progress, not perfection. The end of the year can be a hard time for many students – and their families too. Looking ahead now and employing these strategies early will help reduce test anxiety.
And, if your student is writing their college essay this summer, we can help. Learn more about our College Essay Writing support.