With the final exams around the corner, teachers and children are starting to prepare. Past papers are being completed, revision of work in class is taking place and exam schedules are being set. In the Foundation Phase, although exams are not written, the children write spelling tests or have to present orals. Tests, exams, orals, and even unprepared assessments can cause stress.
A little bit of stress can be a good thing. It can provide children with the motivation to sit down and study, to focus in class, and to ensure that they get through all the work. However, too much can lead to anxiety which can present as stomach aches, headaches, trouble breathing, and going blank in tests.
So how do parents help their children combat these feelings so that their brains can focus on getting their knowledge onto paper? Here are some tips on taming test anxiety, which can also be applied to younger children:
It seems like an obvious thing to say. However, preparation is one of the key aspects to determining whether or not a child will experience test anxiety. Ensure that your child has a well thought out study timetable, that they have all the relevant work ready and summarised, and that they have sufficient time to go through all the work. For some children, test-taking skills need to be taught, such as: reading instructions carefully before starting; looking for questions they know how to answer; leaving tricky questions to the end, and checking their answers carefully.
2. Ask questions
Through the process of talking about worries, children are often able to work through their emotions. It will also help to gain an understanding of their thought patterns that trigger anxious feelings. Ask questions such as, “What’s your biggest worry about the test?”, “What happens when you see a question you are unsure of?”, or “Which words are you worried about in your spelling test?”
3. Letting go of perfectionism
For some children, getting everything correct, having the perfect score, or studying every single detail can create a sense of anxiety. Help your child to recognise that while it is important to focus on central concepts and learn the work, it is almost impossible to learn every single detail. To help curb perfectionism, encourage your child to set a time limit and to go through their notes with the aim of extracting the most important concepts and facts. If there is time left over, they can then go through the information that was leftover. Remind them that success does not mean a perfect score. Putting in your best effort can mean just as much.
4. Encourage positive self-talk
Our thoughts can affect how we feel. By teaching your child how to reframe negative thoughts, they will be able to recognise a negative thought and replace it with a positive thought. For example: “I can’t do this!” can be changed to, “I can’t do this YET, but with practice, I will be able to”. Or, “Joe always does well. I’ll never be as good as him!” can be reframed as, “Everyone has different strengths. I can celebrate mine!”
5. Teach relaxation strategies
When we feel stressed, we often imagine ourselves being transported to a place of relaxation (such as lying on a beach, sitting in a field under a tree, or walking through a forest). Teach your child to do the same, especially since they have amazing imaginations. At home, get your child to close their eyes and imagine a place where they feel happy, calm, and safe. Encourage them to use their five senses to fill out the details of their surroundings. As your child does so, remind them to take deep breaths. When your child writes their test, remind them to close their eyes for a minute or two and imagine that same place and to think of how calm they felt.
6. Boost their confidence
Help your child focus on their strengths. Although tests and exams are an important part of school, there will be many other strengths that your child has. Remind them of these strengths before a test, oral, or exam. Have a mantra that they can repeat, such as, “I can do this!”
7. Seeing it as a game
Even though it is important to take studying seriously, encourage your child to think of the test as a game. The goal is to collect as many points as possible in the time available. Remind them not to focus or get stuck on a tricky question but to rather move on. Explain to your child that although they may not answer everything, they can still do well. For younger children, it can be a memory game. See how many spelling words you can remember.
Test anxiety can be overwhelming for many children. However, if it is tackled early your child will develop the skills to build test confidence over time.
I would like to remind our community that the SDU is a place of support. Please do not hesitate to be in touch should you have any questions. We are intentional about availing ourselves to the children at any time.