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How to Identify Test Anxiety

How to Identify Test Anxiety

Updated July 17, 2024

Test anxiety is a prevalent issue that can impact student performance on exams, but it can be challenging to spot. As a parent, teacher or administrator, you want to help students succeed in school. Learning more about the feelings children face in the classroom can help you encourage them to excel.

Any child may experience test anxiety, even those without a history of anxiety. Knowing the signs and symptoms of test anxiety can help you identify it in students and support their success in testing environments. 

Table of Contents

Why Some Students Get Test Anxiety

It's natural for students to feel nervous before taking any assessment. However, when that stress is ongoing, it can lead to test anxiety that can affect performance. 

Children with disabilities may need additional help identifying the resources and skills they need to perform well. For children with dyslexia, ADHD, sensory processing issues or slow processing speeds, text anxiety may stem from linking their past experiences and challenges to their current tests. General or social anxiety can fuel a fear of failure or poor performance. 

Other students may experience test anxiety because they feel out of control or think their academic performance reflects their worth. They might be taking a complex or advanced course or believe they won't finish within the time limit. 

What Are the Symptoms of Test Anxiety?

Test anxiety comes with various symptoms, and some signs are more obvious than others. 

Physical Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Many students with test anxiety experience physical symptoms, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Cold hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle spasms

If a student asks to go to the bathroom frequently during tests or says they have stomachaches, these behaviors may be physical symptoms of test anxiety. Noticing students who are physically uncomfortable during tests can help you know which students may need extra support. 

Emotional Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Students may also experience emotional symptoms as a result of test anxiety:

  • Worry
  • Fear 
  • Panic

Some students may pull you aside to express these worries. In these circumstances, learning why a child feels these emotions during tests can help you lessen their worries through preparation plans and help them find coping skills.

Cognitive and Behavioral Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Finally, test anxiety may manifest in these cognitive and behavioral symptoms:

  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Preoccupation with negative thoughts
  • Concerns about ability and intelligence
  • Overemphasizing potential negative test results
  • Procrastination
  • Poor study skills
  • Tiredness during testing

If a student tells you they'll fail before every test or frequently shares that they haven't studied, these habits may be cognitive or behavioral symptoms of test anxiety. Solutions like finding study methods, working through testing strategies and helping individual students set goals can help them succeed on the next test.

What Teachers Can Do to Reduce Test Anxiety

Instructors can ease anxiety by giving helpful tips and letting students know what they'll see on test day. Being upfront about expectations and test formats can help reduce students' discomfort. 

Tips for teachers to reduce test anxiety include:

  • Share test formats: Let your students know what to expect by sharing the test format. You can create a study guide that mirrors the test design or tell them how you've structured the exam. For example, there may be 20 multiple choice questions, two open-ended responses and five bonus questions. Students who worry about how to divide their time may appreciate having the chance to prepare. 
  • Identify study methods: Every student has their own way of studying, and some techniques will work better than others. Some students may prefer to listen to recorded notes, while others do better reviewing written materials and highlighting important items. Spend time discussing different study methods and encourage your students to find what works best for them. 
  • Work through strategies: Instructors can also ease test anxiety by teaching students ways to feel more confident in their answers. Checking that they answered every question before handing in their exam might give them peace of mind. Reading every question thoroughly before answering can help avoid incorrect answers. Tips for answering tricky questions can give students options when they feel stuck. 
  • Give practice tests: Instructors can ease anxiety by showing students what will be on the exam. You could offer a fill-in study guide the week before the test starts and dedicate time in each class for students to work through it. Feeling prepared can help them build confidence and reduce their anxiety. 

What Parents Can Do to Reduce Test Anxiety

Parents play an essential role in student education. You can help ease your child's anxiety with the following tips:

  • Set realistic goals: Your child will need time to overcome their anxiety. Even with days of preparation and studying, they might still feel anxious at first. However, you can help them set realistic goals and encourage them along the way to find what works best for them. 
  • Praise hard work: Regardless of how they perform on the test, make sure to praise them for the hard work they've put in. You can even give them a reward for their effort, like letting them decide what the family has for dinner or taking them out for ice cream. If you know your child spent days studying and still didn't perform well, you should encourage them to keep trying rather than punish them for a low grade. 
  • Create study schedules: Parents can help their children dedicate time to studying. If your child avoids study materials on their own, they may be more willing to study with you at specific times. Sit down with your child daily after dinner or as soon as you get home from work, so they know when to expect study time. 
  • Help them prepare: Test preparation goes beyond hitting the books. A good night's sleep and a well-balanced breakfast will help keep them focused and energized on test day. Make sure your child goes to bed at a reasonable time and wakes up in time to fuel up before heading to school. 

Parent and Teacher Strategies

Students can benefit immensely when parents and teachers come together. Since some students may feel uncomfortable discussing their worries with teachers, parents should initiate the conversation. Teachers and parents should meet to discuss student behaviors and how they can help ease anxiety at school and home. If students hear advice from more than one important adult, they may feel more inclined to listen and believe it. 

  • Ask about triggers: Students may not always know what their anxiety stems from, but having an open conversation can help you pinpoint what you can do to help. For example, parents can reassure their children that trying their best is more important than the grade itself. Teachers can give students more time for tests if they worry about time constraints. 
  • Encourage positive talk: It's common for students who experience test anxiety to belittle themselves before and after the exam. Encouraging positive talk can help them realize that worth spans beyond academics. Reassure them that one test does not define their personality or intelligence and that they always have other chances to do better. 
  • Teach relaxation techniques: Relaxing one muscle at a time, deep breathing and imagining a positive outcome can help reduce stress and anxiety. Dedicate time to showing children how to relax and focus. 

Students might feel anxious even after finishing an exam. In the classroom, teachers can congratulate students or have a one-on-one conversation to find out how they think they did. Parents should ask their children how they felt about an exam when they come home from work, at the dinner table or in any other comfortable setting. Let your students know you care and appreciate their effort and encourage them to take time for a fun activity as a reward for their actions. 

Prepare Students for Tests With Success by Design

Helping students overcome test anxiety begins with identifying the symptoms. Once you know that students suffer from these issues, you can address why they feel test anxiety and equip them to flourish in testing environments. 

If your students struggle to prepare for and perform well on tests, consider supplying your classroom with Success by Design planners. These resources make it easy for students to know when tests are and create study schedules leading up to them. Being prepared can help your students overcome stress and improve their grades. Explore our fun selection of planners for students from preschool to high school. 

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