Take The Stress Out of Standardized Tests


The very idea of a test throws some children into a panic. Other children seem to be able to go with the flow and even enjoy tests as a way of showing off how much they have learned. Most kids, however, fall somewhere in between. There are a number of things that parents can do to help children manage their feelings about tests or assessments and to perform their best.

  1. Make sure your child has all of the study materials the teacher may have offered, such as a study guide or outline of test content.
  1. Reinforce success. Remind your child of things he/she has already accomplished even though they initially seemed difficult. Review techniques that have worked for him/her in the past.
  1. Once you know what will be assessed, there are lots of ways to reinforce learning. Family meals can be a great time to practice spelling words and math facts. Flashcards are great for memorizing history and science facts. To increase reading comprehension, read stories or newspaper articles together and then ask your child questions about the content and important themes. You can also use everyday situations such as letting your child figure out change for purchases or managing the daily schedule. For example, ask your child, “if school starts at 8:30 a.m. and it is now 7:15 a.m., how much time do we have before school starts?”
  1. Use different senses. If your child is having trouble remembering a specific answer, have them write it in a fun color or have them tape a sticky note with the correct answer somewhere they will see it frequently. Using more than one sensory input reinforces memory.
  1. Take breaks. It is important that your child has time to rest and play. Daily exercise helps our brains function optimally.
  1. Encourage the use of relaxation techniques, such as abdominal breathing and guided meditation. There are some great free cell phone apps such as Calm or Headspace that help teach relaxation and focused concentration. This can help settle nerves at bedtime before tests and even as the child sits down to take the actual exam.
  1. Remind your child that you expect them to try their best. But you do not expect perfection. For children who are very nervous, sharing with them about a time you were scared and how you handled it can be very helpful.

These strategies may help your child develop better study habits and bridge the gap between learning and recall. Since testing is an ongoing part of school and even future jobs, learning to manage test anxiety is an important tool in assuring future success.

Dr. Elaine Ducharme is a licensed psychologist in Connecticut and a member of the American Psychological Association (APA). This resource is made possible through a partnership between APA and PTA to educate parents and teachers about behavioral health and emotional well-being.                 

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