Easing school test anxiety
Most children will feel anxious around test time. They want to perform well and they are aware that they will be evaluated. Their parents want them to do well, and with greater pressure on standardised testing, their teachers want them to do well!
While there are questions surrounding whether or not tests are good indicators of learning, for the time being, tests are here to stay, and will remain a central component of academic performance measurement for some time to come.
Parents can do several important things to reduce the anxiety their children may feel at test-time.
By establishing useful study habits, children can be well prepared for exam time. These habits include creating a routine that allows time for study, reviewing class notes, quizzing friends in group study, and minimising other distractions (especially media and screen time).
Reconsider what success means
Have you ever been in a situation where everything you did was being scrutinised, and where your performance really mattered – enormously? Pressure can be helpful for performance to a certain extent, but when the pressure gets too much it can override our ability to think, learn, process, and respond the way we need to.
Few exams or tests are that important. While doing well is beneficial and can boost confidence, too much pressure can make doing well too hard. Let your children know that you have trust in their ability to do their best, but that you will be proud of them – and love them – irrespective of their performance on the test. You might say something like:
- “What matters most to me is that you are learning and enjoying school.”
- “Your test result is not as important to me as whether you are happy, healthy, and have good friends.”
- “I know you’ve studied hard, and I’m going to love you no matter what the outcome is.”
While you are not excusing poor performance, letting your child know that he or she is much more than a number on a test can reduce the pressure she or he will feel going into a test.
Don’t offer rewards or bribes, or make threats and punishments
If you worked as a sales rep and your boss offered a holiday to the employee who generated the most sales, you might respond in several ways. First, you might give up immediately, believing it was unattainable. Second, you might work really hard, but just miss out. Not getting the reward might leave you with a sense that ‘all that work was for nothing’. Or third, you might get it – and hopefully be happy.
However, the first two scenarios are very real risks. As soon as we suggest extrinsic motivators (whether positive or negative) we increase the pressure on our children. Some children give up straight away. They simply don’t believe that they can do what we want them to do (or they don’t want it themselves). Some children work really hard, but still miss out. Making a reward contingent on a result can be de-motivating. Some children, will, of course achieve the reward. But this begs the question, have they learned for the love of learning, or for the reward? Research suggests that rewards actually reduce motivation for the task (study), but increase motivation to get rewards!
Instead, should your child do well you might surprise him or her with a treat as a congratulations. This unexpected gift of appreciation means there is no pressure before the test.
Read more about school tests:
- 9 ways to help kids cope with tests
- Reducing exam stress for kids
- 12 tips for a better school year
- Improve your child's school success
- Maintain successful communication with the school
- Starting high school
Ready Set Learn
This article was written for Kidspot by Justin Coulson, Ph. D. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at happyfamilies.com.au.