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More Tests = More Anxiety

Q: If the test is only a week or two away, what then?

You can review the right way to take standardized tests. For example:
- Look over the whole test before beginning. That way, your child can manage her time efficiently. If there's an essay at the end, she'll know that she can't spend too long on the multiple-choice questions.

- Skip tough questions and go back to them. But remind your child not to panic if the first several questions are stumpers. When that happens, it's easy to think the whole test is impossible. But these tests don't progress from easiest to hardest.

- Eliminate wrong answers. If your child is at a loss, she can increase her odds by ruling out answers that she knows are incorrect. Some kids have heard that if they're guessing, they should always pick a certain letter because most of the answers correspond to that letter. Don't let them fall for that old trick. These new tests aren't set up that way.

And here's a great tip I heard from a seventh grader. She told me, "I used to get nervous during multiple-choice exams because often the choices were so similar, I'd get mixed up. Now I cover up the answers while I read the question, figure out what it should be, then choose the answer that comes closest to mine."

Q: Some moms go so far as to give their kids prescription drugs. Does that make sense?

I want to be clear. There's a big difference between anxiety and real phobia. If a child is exhibiting true test-phobic behavior-avoiding the test at all costs, even making himself sick-it's probably only one manifestation of more severe problems. With professional help, there may be times when short-term medication is appropriate. But these situations are the extreme. To my mind, there is absolutely no need for medication for routine cases of test anxiety.

Q: What about meditation or deep relaxation?

These techniques are perfect for treating routine test anxiety. As testing increases, many schools have even added these activities to the standard curriculum.

One of the most effective relaxation techniques kids can use during the test is visualization. Ask your child to imagine herself in one of her favorite places. How does it look, feel, smell, and sound? A fourth grader in one of my schools said he used to imagine soup. "Soup?" I asked. "Yes, I close my eyes and imagine I'm in my grandmother's house and I can smell the soup cooking in her kitchen. That's when I relax." I've had kids end up in Disney World, Africa, the beach-anywhere they feel happy and calm. In fact, visualization is what helped my daughter after that fitful night. She still gets butterflies, but now she knows how to soothe herself. Have your child practice visualization at home when he gets frustrated during a homework assignment. He'll see that it works, and he'll be comfortable trying it during an exam.

I'm also a big fan of meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and regular exercise. All these activities can help kids stay calm during the time leading up to the test and also will come in handy in other stressful periods throughout their lives. Ask your child's guidance counselor for more info and check out the Web sites (search for test anxiety) and school (search for relaxation techniques).


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