How to Help Your Child Manage Their Testing Anxiety
By Laura Whitmore
Sweaty palms. Heart palpitations. Mind racing or blanking. These are just some of the symptoms your child may experience while taking a high-stakes test. Anxiety can keep your child from earning the score they deserve! So, how can you help them cope with anxiety and reframe their thinking before going into a high-stakes test like the SAT?
It is important to note that anxiety falls on a spectrum. This means that some students experience higher levels of anxiety than others, but most students experience anxiety to some degree. Identifying what type(s) of anxiety you have, according to Kondo (1997), is a crucial first step to working through that anxiety. Here are the three classifications of anxiety:
1. Cognition: worry, preoccupations, and concerns
2. Emotional Arousal: bodily reactions and tension
3. Lack of Skills: feeling incapable/unprepared
Talk to your child and ask them what type of anxiety they believe they have. They may experience more than one type, which is common.
Fortunately, there are strategies that you can share with your child to help them manage all types of testing anxiety, resulting in a better performance and outcome on the SAT and beyond! (Kondo, 1997, p. 208).
Strategy 1: Positive Thinking
Generating positive thoughts around the testing situation is an effective way to reduce society. Visualization techniques, where your son or daughter can picture themselves working through the test calmly and confidently, are helpful. Your child can even think about something completely unrelated that makes them happy – like playing with their dog or being at their favorite vacation spot – to redirect their thoughts before or during a test.
Strategy 2: Relaxation
This strategy aims at alleviating body tension. Deep breathing techniques are helpful, like the 4, 7, 8 method: close the lips and inhale through the nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, then exhale completely through the mouth making a whoosh sound for a count of eight. This completes one cycle. Your child can repeat this numerous times until their body feels completely relaxed. They can also try body scan meditations, where they sit or lie down and focus on relaxing one area of their body at a time. A great place to access guided body scan meditations is via YouTube.
Strategy 3: Preparation
There is an inverse relationship between preparedness and anxiety. In other words, if your son or daughter feels more prepared come test day, they will naturally feel less anxious. Working with a test prep coach and practicing sections consistently are the two best ways to gain confidence and feel prepared ahead of the SAT test.
Strategy 4: Increase Exposure to Your Fear
When faced with a difficult or challenging situation, a typical human reaction is avoidance. When the SAT can help offset a lower GPA, get your child more scholarship money, or help them get into a top-tier school, avoiding the test is a grave mistake. If they have test-taking anxiety, it is better to expose them to the testing situation as much as possible. Signing up for a few different SAT dates will help your child to experience a high-stakes testing environment and get used to it. By the third test, their anxiety should be significantly reduced compared to the first time they went in.
Strategy 5: Concentration
This strategy is characterized by attempting to handle the task at hand as effectively as possible. Learning strategies to help with concentration will make the test experience a lot smoother. During test prep, we will focus heavily on test-taking strategies that help boost student concentration. If your son or daughter can go into a test with a game plan and a sense of purpose, their anxiety will naturally lower as a result.
These strategies are all strategies I personally have suggested and practiced with my students! In my experience working with hundreds of students, I believe that test-taking is 50% mentality, 50% knowledge. It is important for a student to go into a test with the right mindset to maximize their score. It takes time and practice, working on these strategies at home with parental support will help give them the best chance of overcoming the anxiety adversity!
Kondo. (1997). Strategies for coping with test anxiety. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 10(2), 203–215.