Who among us doesn’t remember the stress associated with taking tests in school! Teens today are tested on everything from academic content, standardized tests, and even driving. Surprisingly, feeling a bit of stress before a test is actually a good thing. That extra kick of adrenaline improves recall, focus, productivity and speed. It helps the mind critically assess situations. Stress is a vital ingredient to success. However, excessive stress can be detrimental to a teenager’s mental health. Test anxiety occurs when the stress that surrounds test taking becomes debilitating for a teen.
The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recognize test anxiety as a category of social phobia. A student may have understood the schoolwork and studied thoroughly, but still not perform well while taking the test due to overwhelming stress. The ADAA states that for some students, “Taking the test is the most difficult part of the equation.” Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety that can severely compromise grades, damage confidence, and decrease motivation. The good news is that most cases of test anxiety are not permanent, and can be overcome with test taking strategies and coping skills.
Reframe stress as a tool, which the test taker can use to their advantage. A report from the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the simple act of seeing stress as an advantage rather than a threat helps to build resiliency and improve performance. Training teens to view stress as fuel, rather than foe, can assist them when taking a test.
Prepare for the Test
For a teen with test anxiety, test preparation includes more than studying and doing homework. It helps to have an understanding of the test environment, format, and content. By understanding what type of test will be administered, the student is able to learn specific strategies for the different test formats. Knowing what to expect and building in test-taking strategies helps to alleviates anxiety.
Spending time understanding negative beliefs and recognizing the physical feelings that come up around test taking can be very powerful. Encourage teens to talk about their fears in a non-judgmental environment. By anticipating the negative emotions, and giving them strategies to change those negative beliefs or feelings, they will be better equipped to manage the situation on test day. For example, something as simple as positive affirmations at the start of testing along with deep breathing, can help control anxiety. Self-awareness is the first step to controlling emotions.
Curb the caffeine intake on test day and nix the coffee run! The morning of the test is not the time to down an espresso or energy drink. Caffeine, when used during complex intellectual activities, can increase impulsivity and inattention. Caffeine may also lead to an increase in heart rate, causing test anxiety to worsen.
Sometimes a teen just needs to be a teen! Make room for enough exercise, social interaction, nutritious food, and free time. Factor in a teenager’s need for increased sleep. Allowing a teen to engage in self-care activities outside of school creates a healthy barrier between school tests and their self-worth. It broadens their definition of success and provides them with a safe space to decompress.
Don’t Stress the Test
It’s difficult not to stress about tests. However, it’s also helpful for the teen to understand that their worth is not contingent on good grades or a perfect test result. Performing badly on a test does not constitute long-term failure, rather it is an opportunity to learn how to overcome this hurdle for the next time. What’s important is teaching teens about the importance of problem solving. Moving through the fear of taking a test can help a teenager develop the lifelong skills needed for resiliency and success.
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Calabasas Child and Adolescent Psychology here.