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Help Your Child Deal With Exam Anxiety

by Ryan

More and more parents are finding that their children are experiencing high amounts of stress and anxiety at exam time. While a little bit of stress can be beneficial (too much confidence can cause complacency), too much anxiety interferes with their ability to perform on the exam.


Believe it or not, over-confidence can be a problem with tests. Your child doesn't bother to read through each answer and quickly selects one answer that looks right when a better answer is available.

But self-doubt is a more serious problem. It is not uncommon for questions on a multiple choice test, for example, to have more than one right answer, where one answer is "more right" than another. At the very least, there is always an answer that looks like it could be right but is not. When your child confidently takes the exam, they'll see the "more right" answer, trust their gut, and move on – usually getting the question correct. But when your child has too much anxiety, they can be subjected to overwhelming self-doubt, and that self-doubt often leads to a more common problem – changing the right answer to the wrong one by overly justifying why the wrong answer is probably right. Far too many test takers doubt themselves so strongly that they convince themselves their gut must be wrong, and go with a different, incorrect answer.

Loss of State Dependent Memory

There's a phenomenon known as state dependent memory. The basics of this type of memory is that you are more likely to remember something when you are in the same mental state as when you learned the information.

Many teenagers often study with earphones and music, or with a television on. So they'd be more likely to pass the exam if they also took the test listening to the same music.

For students, this means that if they may not experience anxiety when they study, because they were relaxed with their favorite music on, but they are more likely to experience anxiety on test day, and the recall of information may be impaired. So help your child to study under similar conditions to a test.

Poor Time Management

Most tests are subjected to time limits. Each test is designed to last roughly that time limit, with the faster students finishing a bit more quickly. If your child suffers from severe anxiety, they may waste far too much time on each question as they worry about their answer. Ultimately they waste far too much time, and in the end they have to rush through the last questions or turn in the test incomplete.

Help Your Child Cope

As a parent, it is to your child's advantage to teach them ways to cope with their anxiety. Reducing your child's anxiety is a process, but the following strategies can help them cope better with exam stress.

Devise a Test Taking Plan

Work with your child on creating a plan for how they'll take tests. Teach them the value of going with their gut feeling and moving on to the next question without worrying about whether the answer is right or wrong. If they have time at the end they can check back.

Help them to allocate their time to each of the questions and have a deadline to complete each question before they have to move on. Creating a plan will reduce the stress of not completing an exam. If they get stuck on one question it is better to move on and come back to it at the end.

Reduce Other Anxiety

Anxiety is cumulative, so if they suffer anxiety in other areas of their life, they'll likely experience more anxiety on test day. Some children live very stressful busy lives, so reducing their daily causes of stress around exam time, will go a long way toward reducing their exam anxiety.

Change Your Child's Mindset

Exams are seen as important, and as a parent you can help your child study and do their best in school. But once the exam is done it's done, and there's no reason to focus on how they did or what their grade means. Work with your child to take some of the pressure off of the way they see each test so that they are less concerned about the outcome, and more focused on new learning.

Build In Rewards

Look for ways to reward them for their hard work, so that they have greater confidence in their ability and keep motivated.

Exam anxiety can be very challenging for many children, but if you work with your child's mindset and help them develop strategies to cope you should see a positive outcome.

Comments for Help Your Child Deal With Exam Anxiety

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EFT Tapping Works Really Well With Exam Anxiety
by: Annie Desantis

Thanks for your article Ryan.

I would like to add to your tips to help kids with exam anxiety, and that would be using Emotional Freedom Technique to help tap out the stress or anxiety, and to tap in affirmations about success, good recall, and relaxation.

You can find out more about using EFT Tapping on our EFT pages.

The other thing that works really well to help prepare for exams, is using visual aids. Particularly for children that are visually dominant - they will respond more and remember more when they use mind maps, colored charts, highlighters and even cut out pictures from magazines to represent key ideas.

Auditory kids will remember little rhymes - keywords, dates, names or key ideas can be made into a little poem or song that triggers off the memory.

The more tools we give our kids, the better they can cope under pressure. Exams are not fun, they don't really even measure very accurately if someone has mastered a skill or concept, they really mostly only measure how one performs on the day. But they are a fact of life and if we can help our kids successfully pass exams and feel good about their attempts then we are supporting them as best we can.

For other parents - feel free to add your parenting tips or ideas about exam stress via the comments below.

Click here to add your own comments

Do you have a question or want to send a submission to Annie? Simply click here to return to Top 10 Parenting Tips.

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