How to Help Students Cope with Test Anxiety
- By Pamela Roggeman
anxiety is a real problem, affecting 25%
of U.S. students. Anxiety, along with academic stress, can appear as
physical symptoms (such as headaches, nausea and sleeplessness) and
psycho-emotional symptoms (like difficulty concentrating or increased
test anxiety is common, it’s important to make sure it’s not
debilitating. Parents, guardians and educators can play an active
role in supporting students experiencing these feelings. They can
provide resources that teach relaxation techniques and testing
strategies, or simply listen as students share their concerns. Here
are eight ways parents and educators can help ease test anxiety in
students who suffer from test anxiety starts with proper preparation.
This means helping them study effectively and creating a clear plan
for their testing day. Preparation can look different for
individuals, but there are a few tips everyone can benefit from:
an organized study plan: Develop a weekly or monthly testing
schedule and provide students with study guides.
relaxation techniques: Help students learn how to calm themselves by
practicing meditation, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation,
diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness, or yoga.
enough rest: Encourage students to go to bed early and take breaks
healthy meals: A balanced diet helps reduce stress levels and
improve alertness and readiness for testing.
more resources: These include everything from testing strategies to
Try to understand their fears
anxiety can be rooted in a number of underlying fears, such as:
fear of failure or not being good enough.
trauma related to school or test-taking.
or other mental health issues.
anxiety and social comparison.
to understand why your student is feeling anxious or scared about
testing. Ask questions about past testing experience, what triggers
their stress, and how they feel when testing. For example:
do you think makes testing so difficult for you?
me about a time when you didn’t do well on a test. How did you
feel? What happened?
any particular thoughts come to mind when testing?
are your biggest concerns about testing?
the student’s feelings and fears become clearer, you can offer more
targeted and practical support, and you can discuss strategies and
resources to help address these issues and succeed in learning, both
online and in the classroom.
Provide opportunities to demonstrate competency
can be challenging for those who experience testing anxiety to feel
they are seen and heard, so it’s crucial to give them an
opportunity to prove their competency. This could mean providing them
with additional testing time or a relaxed testing environment. You
could also offer constructive feedback on their testing performance
and encouragement to keep trying.
you can provide extra testing resources such as practice tests or
test-taking strategies. This way, students can achieve tangible
results and understand success is possible with the right support.
Reframe their perspective
help students maintain a better perspective on testing, explain that
testing is only one part of the learning journey. Remind them to take
a step back and focus on the bigger picture. The testing process has
many moving parts, and it’s essential to help students see that
testing is not the only way to measure their intelligence or
on their age, encourage them to explore other opportunities such as:
experiences can give students a wider perspective on how intelligence
and competency are assessed as well as provide them with alternative
paths to success. Likewise, a broader perspective can help build
self-confidence and resilience, which can, in turn, help reduce
Help manage underlying stress
anxiety is often caused or exacerbated by preexisting anxiety.
of adolescents reported having an active form of the condition,
with 8.3% experiencing extreme levels that meet the DSM-IV criteria
for impairment. Therefore, helping students address and manage
underlying stress in both the short and long term can be helpful.
every condition is the same, but some ideas for helping students
manage their stress include:
a welcoming classroom environment by encouraging open communication
relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or
visualization to help manage anxiety.
students to take regular breaks throughout the testing process.
doing this, you can help students feel more secure in their testing
environment and better manage their testing anxiety overall.
Share effective test-taking strategies
strategies are specific tools, techniques, and approaches that can be
used to maximize performance, reduce stress, and improve confidence.
Examples of effective test-taking strategies include:
ahead: Students must learn how to allocate time, understand the test
format, and preview testing material to anticipate which questions
may be asked.
directions: It’s important to carefully read instructions to
ensure comprehension before beginning any testing activity.
focused: Remaining organized and on task during testing can help a
student avoid wasting time or needing to double-check answers.
distractions: Staying focused by turning off electronics, putting
away testing materials, and blocking out other test-takers can help
students do their best work while managing their time efficiently.
Emphasize positive thinking
of the best ways to help students manage testing anxiety is by
encouraging positive thinking. Positive thinking can be a powerful
tool for believing in one’s ability to succeed and perform well on
testing days. Positive thinking can also help reduce stress levels,
preventing testing anxiety from spiraling out of control.
thinking takes practice, and building healthy habits can create a
framework to achieve that. Help your students develop concrete
examples of positive self-talk they can use on testing days, such as,
“I am capable and confident,” or, “I can do this!” Have
students write these affirmations and commit them to memory.
ways to encourage positive thinking include:
positive testing behavior.
moments of silence to relax and refocus.
testing successes instead of failures.
Encourage them to get enough sleep
a good night’s sleep before a testing day is one of the best ways
to reduce stress and maximize performance. Sleep helps restore energy
levels, dispel mental fog and improve memory.
Academy of Sleep Medicine
recommends that children ages 6 to 12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep
every 24 hours and youths ages 13 to 18 get 8 to 10 hours.
are some ways to optimize sleep before testing:
to bed and wake up at the same time every night.
bright screens (TV, computer, phone) for at least one hour before
caffeine or other stimulants late in the day.
to calming music or read something relaxing before turning out the
mindful breathing or visualization techniques to feel more relaxed.