Battling Test Anxiety

With 2 kids at different points in their educational journey, testing anxiety is a common ground for both of them. We have a middle schooler who attends the local public middle school’s GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) magnet school, and an elementary scholar who participates in an online public charter school from home. They both present different issues relating to testing anxiety, and cope with that anxiety differently.


For the elementary student we battle anxiety related to his autism in every aspect of education, but that baseline anxiety skyrockets when the word “test” come up. As you can guess, we don’t use that word if we can avoid it. We also avoid “assessment,””checkpoint,” and even “growth check” because he’s figured out that those are tests as well. But sometimes we can’t avoid it. As he figures out patterns and sequencing of his curriculum this is more often becoming the case. Here are some of the strategies we employ with him.

Smell & Blow and Take it Slow

“Smell the Flowers and Blow the Candle” has been a serious tool through all parts of battling anxiety, this is no exception. Take it slow has been a new addition recently. This child is always in a rush, trying to get past the non-preferred activity as fast as possible so he can transition into the next item on the list. Taking time to focus on one question at a time, and reading all the way through the instructions, the question, and ALL the possible answers. A timer can also help. setting an allotment of time to spend on a test allows for the prompt “oh, you’re done early, time to go back thru and review or check all your answers”

Let’s have a “Practice Test”

We use this for spelling every week. We take a no-stress not for points practice test that really is the test. We approach it in a way that allows him to understand that if he doesn’t do well, he can try again because this is just practice. However, if he can pass the practice we just move on and record the score as his test.

Timer vs Stopwatch

When timed math facts showed up, our boy shut down. He would sit and stare at the time and never even make it to answering the first question. So we took a different route. We gave him a stopwatch. It’s amazing what happens when you just flip something over. Instead of setting a limit, we simply let him complete the test and stopped counting answers after 1 minute came around. He had no idea, and answered nearly all the questions within the time.


For our middle school daughter we face a different type of anxiety, and so we approach it in a different way. To begin with she is much older and has a better understanding of her emotions and how they effect her. Gifted students struggle with a self-imposed perception of perfection being the necessary outcome. perfect scores and straight As have been the norm for so long, when a gifted student begins to struggle with a subject area, they lack the self-motivational skills necessary to persevere. This is especially challenging when they compare themselves to their peers who are also gifted but may struggle in different areas. Many gifted students are hard-wired for efficiency, so when presented with an obstacle they feel is insurmountable, they see persistence and ineffectual. Enter test anxiety. In this instance the anxiety surrounds the test for days leading up to and even afterwards as she awaits the results and then promptly compares them to her peers’ results.

Handling Emotions

As a gifted child our daughter’s emotions can easily overwhelm her. Understanding that is one part of the equation, conquering it is another. For this we preach perspective. There is more going on than just this test. There is a whole school year of academics, this is only a drop in the bucket.

Conquering Comparisons

In a school system that specializes in gifted education it is awesome that there are GATE only core classes and GATE magnet schools. However it comes with challenges as well. The biggest is that the peer-to-peer comparison is skewed. With high achievement predominating the classrooms it can feel like an extra low blow to come back with a C on a test. To conquer this we focus on effort. I could honestly care less about what grade she gets as long as she gave it her best effort. As long as she studied, and didn’t procrastinate we’ll celebrate!

Slowing it Down

This is common area for both of our children. It is natural to want to move as quickly as possible through an unpleasant task, so rushing becomes second nature. We again remind her to slow down, read all the way thru the problem, double check the directions, and when she’s finished to go back review and check her answers. Today, she refuses to be the first one to turn in her test, she will sit and continue to review her test answers until one or two other students have submitted their tests for grading.

The Tone at Home

This again touches on how we as parents expect effort rather than grades. The tone and approach to educational expectations in out home really does revolve around effort and personal responsibility. We expect the best out of each of our children, but we take the focus off the GPA and put it squarely on the work habits and citizenship. The result is often that our daughter excels because she put in the amount of work necessary.

Tests are just one item in a long list of experiences that can cause anxiety. By giving our children the tools to manage and cope with anxiety, we set them up for long-term emotional stability.

How do you handle test anxiety in your home?


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