Exam time. Two words that may strike fear into the hearts of many schoolchildren. But experts say with a little preparation, students can decrease anxiety and increase confidence when it comes time to assess their knowledge.
If you are looking for ways to help your kids take the stress out of tests, Vivian Pinner, licensed mental health counselor with Baptist Behavioral Health, suggested encouraging them to do the following:
- Plan ahead. Ask the teacher for a study guide, study with friends and review material in a timely manner. "Preparation is the No. 1 way to counteract test anxiety. The more you prepare, the less anxious you'll be," said Pinner.
- Don't "cram" right before the test. Break down the material into sections or chapters. Focus on one section per study session until all needed material is covered.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before. This will be easier to do if you've properly prepared (see #1 and #2).
- Don't go hungry. Fresh fruits and vegetables may help reduce stress. Avoid sugary or processed foods such as soft drinks, potato chips or candy. Bonus: eating before the exam means your growling stomach won't disturb you or your fellow test-takers!
- Partake in some peppermint. Adding this refreshing herb to your tea or diet can help you feel more alert. Fun tip: Eat a mint while studying and one right before the test to help your brain remember the material you studied. Bonus: Peppermint may also help ease a nervous stomach.
- Take it one step at a time. As you take the test, if you don't know an answer, don't obsess over it. Skip the question and come back. If you're still stumped when you return, answer the best you can and move on.
- If you're so nervous that you blank out, take an in-place mini break. Close your eyes, wiggle your fingers and toes, take a few deep breaths and picture yourself in a calm place.
- Think positive and keep it real. Change any negative thoughts into positive ones. Instead of thinking, "I will fail," try, "I will do my best."
"Anxiety can cause someone to override the reality of a situation," said Pinner. "People get caught up in the emotions, saying, 'If I fail, I'm not going to pass 5th grade,' when the truth may be that you're not going pass this test, but you'll probably have an opportunity to make it up. Or, kids think, 'My parents are going to be so mad,' but when you break it down, they're only going to be mad if you don't try. It's the untruths we tell ourselves about the situation that make anxiety worse."
Pinner said a little anxiousness can be a good thing because it encourages us to put more effort into preparing.
"It shows we care about the outcome," she said.
If you have questions about anxiety, Wolfson Children's On Our Sleeves has free resources for kids and teens, parents, teachers and health professionals to start important conversations and foster mental wellness. To learn more, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/onoursleeves.