Identify behaviors that interfere
- Study thoroughly – know your material completely (no skimming or Spark notes)
- Use good study skills – outlining, note cards, highlighting, writing summaries, etc.
- Ask for help when you need it – get help with difficult material and with developing study skills
- Set aside a structured time and place for homework that is quiet and free from distractions. Turn off the phone and message alerts on the computer.
Prepare for the test
- Get enough sleep and eat a good breakfast.
- Avoid conversations with other students about their worries about the test, since this can increase your anxiety.
- Ask your teacher for a change in seating if your seat is in a very distracting location.
- Practice stress management techniques. These can include meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, and relaxation techniques. While sometimes these techniques can be learned through books, CDs or classes, meeting with a psychologist, yoga teacher or meditation teacher may be beneficial.
- Practice a technique called imaginal rehearsal. Picture yourself at your desk in school feeling relaxed and confident, as you calmly take the test, free from anxiety.
- Challenge negative beliefs and develop positive self-talk. Identify some of the negative thoughts that create self-doubt, such as assuming you will fail, or that you will become anxious during the test. Develop statements that can challenge these assumptions. These can include short statements to boost confidence, such as, "I know I can handle this," to challenges related to specific worries, such as "I don't have to get an A to win my family's approval." Some books listed below offer suggestions for this technique, but a psychologist may be helpful if you need more support with this.
Strategies for test-taking
- Do something relaxing or distracting right before the test.
- Start working on the test immediately. Plan what you want to do first or just start writing, but don’t hesitate.
- Skip questions that seem too difficult – you can return to them later. Plan to use the entire class period for the test. Outline your response for essay questions.
- Don’t aim for perfection.
- Use deep breathing techniques to calm yourself.
- Use mindfulness techniques to “let go” of anxiety. Notice distracting thoughts, but don't “follow them.” Let them drift away and refocus on the test.
- Take short breaks during the test to close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax.
- Use a squeeze ball to release tension, or tense and relax your muscles.
- Remind yourself that some tension is normal; use it as an ally like adrenaline in a race. A pounding heart means you are excited and eager to take on the test, not that you are afraid of it.
- Repeat a calming “mantra” to yourself. Identify a calming phrase or word that you can use to calm yourself and feel grounded.
- Remind yourself that negative self-talk is unproductive and remember your positive self-statements.
These steps listed above are suggestions that you or your child could try. Taking an inventory of problem behaviors that can be changed is an essential first step. Some books that offer guidance are listed below. Negative attitudes and low self-esteem are often the most difficult symptoms of test anxiety to address, though, since they are not easily remedied by simple behavioral tools. Gifted children and adolescents who are burdened with self-doubt, perfectionism and low self-esteem frequently benefit from the support and guidance of a therapist who can help them understand and overcome these perceptions, and stop the cycle of anxiety before it escalates and becomes a chronic problem.
Bourne, E. (2010). The anxiety and phobia workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Burns, D. (2008). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Harper.
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