Easing exam anxiety

Jan 29, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. ET

"My stomach hurts." "I don't feel well." "I have a headache." What parent hasn't heard their child say these words or something similar? Sometimes children aren't really ill but anxious, trying to avoid a situation that's scary or worrisome, like writing an exam. They might not realize their nausea or headache is actually caused by their anxiety.

child taking test

Academic testing begins early in our school system. Children are evaluated on how well they know their colours, their shapes and their numbers and letters. Exams go on to test how well students can read and do math. The list goes on, with the topics and exams getting more complex as they move up through the grades. Here are some tips that can help your child deal with exam anxiety.

Preparing for exams

Exam anxiety is real. Children understand that there are often consequences to not doing well on a test, but the anxiety they feel might work against them, making it harder for them to study, prepare or perform properly. Here are a few things they can do before exam time arrives.

Keep a calendar of upcoming tests

Some teachers like to give pop quizzes, but most of the time students do know when tests are coming. Mark these on a calendar so both you and your child are aware of when an exam will take place.

Start studying early

Instead of waiting for the "right time" to start, studying should happen regularly, leading up to an exam. Encourage your child to take a few minutes every day to review notes and be sure they understand the material. If your child is having problems understanding the material, then there's time to ask for help before exam day.

Think positively

There's a difference between going in to an exam thinking "I'm going to fail this" and "I studied and am prepared." The first thought encourages worry and fear; the second encourages confidence.

Learn about another common school fear: back-to-school >>

Exam time

There are techniques to writing a successful exam, and a few are as basic as you can get, yet many exam takers might not take the time for them. Teach your child these valuable exam-taking tips.

Read the instructions

This seems simple enough, but sometimes students are in such a rush to get through an exam, they don't read the instructions properly. A story that's been going around for years illustrates this: A professor wrote at the start of the exam to go down to the final question, where it said something like, "Write your name in capital letters, and then hand in your exam as is." Students who didn't read that first instruction completed the whole exam before getting to that last question.

Look over the entire exam before starting


Students can sometimes come across questions they find easy and respond to them right away, which will boost their self-confidence for completing the rest of the exam.

Ask questions

Sometimes instructions or questions can be confusing. Rather than spending valuable time trying to figure them out, ask.

Review the exam when done

This is important to be sure no questions were missed. Always review before handing in an exam.

There's no doubt that exams can be anxiety provoking, but with a bit of preparation and support, it's possible to make them a little bit easier.

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