THE CLASSROOM IS QUIET. Everyone is poised with pencils ready. When the signal is given to begin the test, Amanda Griffin goes blank. She has panicked.
Test anxiety is common, says Dr. Donna McGhie- Richmond, a university professor and education specialist with Kumon Math and Reading Centres Canada. “North American society is push, push push to succeed. By the time students reach university, close to 40 percent say they suffer from test anxiety.”
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. The nervousness before taking a test can be so strong for some students that it interferes with their concentration and their performance.
McGhie-Richmond says you can see it in three areas:
- PSYCHOLOGICAL: Stomachache. Sweaty palms. Feeling on edge. Avoiding going to school. These are red flags at any age.
- COGNITIVE: Students are overcome with negative thoughts that sabotage them. “I’m just not any good at taking tests.” or “I’m not a good student.”
- BEHAVIOURAL: Being unprepared. Putting things off. Not having a sound schedule or routine. Inefficient or ineffective studying or test-taking skills.
TACKLING THE PROBLEM
The best way for parents to recognize that their child is facing challenges at school is to keep the communication lines open – with the child and with the school. Help students identify what they are feeling and give them tools that will help them learn to manage their emotions, such as their anxiety, their self-doubt and their frustration.
McGhie-Richmond says that it’s never too late to overcome test anxiety. There are three key areas on which both parents and their child can focus.
Don’t leave anything to the last minute. Parents can support the homework routine by seeing that it is scheduled as a part of the regular day’s routine. Discuss with the child when the optimum time might be.
“Establishing these daily routines at an early age is critical, even if it’s only spending 10 or 15 minutes of reading every day,” says McGhie-Richmond.
Set an agenda with upcoming tests and assignments listed – and keep it posted.
Create practise tests and anticipate probable questions so your child can experience success.
“Amanda has faced test anxiety throughout her school years,“ says her father, Tim. The family used tutors to help her and she learned to use a number of testing and studying techniques. Now, she has a homework routine in place.
Amanda says, “It’s important to become comfortable with putting up your hand and say that you don’t un derstand something in class. Some kids won’t ask for help because they worry about being embarrassed.”
Our society puts great pressure on our children. McGhie-Richmond says, “Struggling with school impacts on how kids see themselves. Our children need to know that no matter how well or poorly they do in school, we love them. Ultimately we want them to know that they need not be defeated by their problems.”
Amanda Griffin, now 14, has just been accepted into a fine arts high school program. Her dad says it was a huge hurdle for her to overcome. Amanda had to submit a portfolio and do a live interview, indictating that she has been able to manage her test anxiety. She was accepted and her parents couldn’t be more proud.