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More Tests = More Anxiety


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Walecia Konrad

Good Housekeeping Magazine LogoMost kids get jitters before an exam. But these days, many kids are feeling outright panic.

One reason is the increase in standardized tests. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all public school students must take annual exams in reading and math in grades three through eight, then again at least once in high school; starting with the 2007/08 school year, they'll also have to take science exams. These tests are a big deal, and kids who don't pass will face serious consequences. In some states, a child who fails any one will be held back-no matter how well he may have done in class. And a school may lose federal funding if too many students fail.

So how can you help your kid deal with the pressure? Below, some advice from Joseph Casbarro, Ph.D., a 30-year-veteran school administrator, psychologist, and author of Test Anxiety & What You Can Do About It.

Q: What are some signs that test anxiety is becoming a problem?

I'll never forget the time when my daughter was in fourth grade, facing her first standardized reading test. She woke up in the middle of the night, calling out, "Daddy, Daddy, I can't sleep. I'm worried about tomorrow's test." Kids with test anxiety may lose sleep, like my daughter did, obsess for days, or feel physical symptoms such as an upset stomach. Other kids will give up, figuring they aren't good test takers, so why bother studying.

Whatever symptoms your child shows, try not to add to the anxiety. If you're tense yourself, your child is a lot more likely to follow suit. You do need to talk to her, though, to help her understand what she's feeling. So ask questions instead of making statements that may sound critical. For example, rather than "You'd better study for the math test next week, I've heard that it's really hard," try "Do you know what's covered on the math test? Do you feel prepared?" You can also comfort her by acknowledging that you were scared about big tests too; it will reassure her that she's having a normal reaction.

Q: If the test isn't for months, is there anything parents can do to help their kids get ready?

Staying involved with your child's schoolwork all year will help him be well prepared by the time the test rolls around. And the more prepared he feels, the less anxious he'll get.

You can help a younger child by teaching him basic study skills and habits. Good teachers stress these throughout the school year, but you can reinforce those efforts by providing a quiet, well-lit place for your child to study and by figuring out what time of day is best for him to do his homework. In addition, it's a good idea to check your child's notes to make sure he is writing down key words and also keeping track of the things that the teacher would be likely to point out as most important. With assigned reading, make sure your child pays special attention to the summary sections of each chapter and masters the comprehension questions.

You can help a kid in middle school or higher by teaching him time management, a skill that will become increasingly critical as he gets involved with more after-school activities. This is also a good opportunity to work with your kid on improving his memory; teach him tricks using rhymes, acronyms, and other mnemonic devices. (Visit howtostudy.org for specifics.) Student study groups are quite popular in these grades now, but you need to determine if they are right for your child. Some kids find that peers can help them get through a tough assignment, but other kids get too distracted with their friends around.

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