desk with a pencil and test on it

5 Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Testing Anxiety

It’s perfectly normal for a student to feel nervous before taking a test, especially if it is a high-stakes exam. In fact, it can actually be worrying if a student doesn’t feel at least a little bit nervous before their test. It is important, though, that these nerves don’t hinder the test result. While performance is ultimately up to the student on test day, there are many steps parents can take to prepare their child for this moment and relieve their testing anxiety.

#1 Set realistic goals

One way to reduce testing anxiety is to set realistic goals from the get-go. Parents should have an honest conversation with their child on what score they want to achieve based on their goals. For example, if their child is taking the SAT or ACT for college admissions, their target score depends on the expectations of the colleges they are applying to. When setting goals, however, it is crucial that it is within reasonable reach of the student. This depends entirely on the situation of the student and should be based on their practice test scores, how much time they have to study, and how confident they feel for the test. If the goal score is set too high, it may place more pressure on the student and exacerbate their nervousness for the test. Thus, it is important that the student and their parents are on the same page about what they want from the test and the factors of their situation in order to set a realistic—but still motivating—goal score that the student can aim for.

#2 Create a study plan ahead of time and stick to it

A student’s testing anxiety can be greatly reduced the more they feel prepared for the exam. A huge part of testing anxiety stems from uncertainty over the results and even the content of the test. If a student is very familiar with the format of the test, the type of questions they will ask, and has multiple strategies on hand if they are faced with an unknown question, they will feel more in control of the testing process and gain confidence in their abilities.

Parents can play a pivotal role in helping their child feel prepared for the test by creating a study plan with their child and making sure they stick to it. Many students may feel overwhelmed with studying—especially if the test covers many topics—and may not know where to start. Furthermore, many students can fall into procrastination or lose motivation after a couple weeks of studying. This is where parents can step in. Parents can guide the student towards a structured and feasible study plan, hold them accountable, and provide support and positive feedback. Parents can ensure that their child doesn’t go through this stressful test process alone. Taking these steps can mitigate their child’s testing anxiety and help them perform their best.

#3 Try relaxation techniques

If a student is experiencing test anxiety, their hearts can start racing, their hands can turn clammy, and they may even have an upset stomach. If they start feeling these symptoms, they can turn to relaxation techniques. There are a multitude of techniques that students can try, and they can use whatever works best for them whenever they feel stressed—while studying, during the test, or even after the test. Many relaxation strategies can be found online, and here are a couple that are proven effective:

  • Deep breathing for 2-5 minutes. Close your eyes and take long, deep breaths. Fill your lungs and stomach with air and concentrate on the air flow. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale.
  • Muscle relaxation. Tense and relax different muscle groups throughout your body. This can also be paired with breathing, as you breathe in while you tense a muscle group and exhale when you relax it.
  • Guided imagery. Picture a calm and soothing scene, place, or experience in your mind. Ground yourself in the imagery, thinking about how you feel, see, smell, and hear. If you can’t come up with some imagery, there are many free apps that provide relaxing scenes and recordings.

#4 Sign up for tutoring

Signing up for tutoring is also a great option to help prepare students for test day. Tutoring can reduce a student’s stress because they don’t have to worry about designing study plans and staying on schedule, on top of actually studying for the test. Students can also feel more comfortable in their preparation and skills if their tutor is reputable, well-known, and has a track record of past successes, since they know that they are learning the right information and time-proven strategies. Tutors can also provide free resources and official practice tests that are difficult to obtain otherwise. Beyond preparation, a tutor can also provide important moral support for students. Having another peer or adult believe in their abilities can greatly boost their confidence and reduce their test-taking anxieties.

There are many tutoring services available online and through school guidance offices for all types of exams. For example, SoFlo SAT Prep Tutoring offers virtual one-on-one tutoring for students taking the SAT and ACT. One benefit to this type of tutoring is that the curriculum is tailored to the student and their score goals. They also provide a plethora of free resources for students on test-taking strategies, important dates and registration information, and more on their blog.

#5 Make sure they are well-rested and in the right headspace on test day!

A huge part of handling test anxiety is the mental component. A student can study and prepare as much as they can, but the day of the test itself is also extremely important. Students should be in the right headspace to take the test, so that they are able to remember the math formulas, strategies, and test-taking techniques that they had previously learned and memorized. They should get an adequate amount of sleep the night before the test and eat a healthy breakfast to make sure they are feeling in physically top shape. If the hours leading up to the test are positive, encouraging, and stress-free, it is more likely the student will feel comfortable and confident going into the test and perform their best.

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