Test Taking For Students With Anxiety

You know that unmistakable feeling? Your mouth is dry, your stomach tenses, palms sweaty, even adults find test taking nerve wracking. But for students with any type of anxiety disorder, exam time can become incredibly stressful.

The Anxiety and Depression Association Of America reports that forty million US adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, with 75% of them reporting their first attack before the age of 22 years.

Some degree of anxiety is a normal and healthy part of childhood, as much as some stress is a normal part of adult life, stress is just conflict and a life without any conflict at all, could be quite dull.

Temporary bouts of stress or depression, especially when directly related to unhappy events are completely normal. For instance, feeling scared when watching a frightening scene in a movie, or sadness or worry during a stressful experience, such as a family breakup, death of a loved one or illness is an appropriate response to a sad time, it’s when these feelings spill over into being a default everyday constant, that steps must be taken to support students.

Mental health problems including anxiety are treatable but 80% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting the treatment and help they need.

When students’ stress levels becomes unmanageable or they don't have a clear way to cope, problems can begin to intensify and an event such as a big test can become a catalyst. With treatment and support, students can develop techniques and strategies to manage stress and the symptoms of anxiety, teachers can help in the following ways:

Tips For Coping With Test Stress:

  1. Preparation: Preparation is the key to avoiding test stress so try not to surprise students with exams. Be clear on your expectations for what subjects and topics students should study, a lot of anxiety comes from feeling unprepared or studying too broadly.
  2. Flexibility: Finding alternative ways to assess certain students can help to make the process less daunting for them- perhaps sometimes an oral exam is possible or informally assessing a student through discussion, when more formal testing is required, consider allowing students to have a water or exercise break, split the test in two parts, give the test in smaller groups or even offer it alone.
  3. Change It Up: Try to use a variety of questions that suit different learners, incorporate essay questions, multiple choice or visual and auditory assessments, so that students feel there is at least something in the test they can complete.
  4. Transparent Assessment: Providing a scoring guide or assessment matrix, that clearly indicates what you, the teacher are looking for, this can help students to feel in control of their results.
  5. The Basics: Encourage students to take care of their mental and physical well being especially before tests- getting a good night's rest, eating well and taking a few deep breaths before the test can really help.
  6. Yoga: Encourage kids to do some yoga before the test begins, deep cleansing breaths and stretching exercises can help to soothe the and set the tone before a big test.
  7. Be A Cheerleader: Encourage positive self talk and affirmations, don't allow students to demean themselves in class and encourage all students to value their own contribution and unique attributes.
  8. A Comfortable Work Environment: Provide comfortable chairs and desks, and make sure the classroom is neither  too hot nor too cold. Also ensure that your class has a ready supply of basics such as  pencils and papers, worrying about school supplies can cause unnecessary added pressure on students.
  9. Talk About It: Students often feel embarrassed about admitting to being nervous before a test, remove some of the stigma regarding test anxiety by speaking openly in your class and normalizing feelings of stress and test anxiety.
  10. Protect Confidentiality: Test scores should always be kept confidential and not displayed where other  students can see them, encourage test etiquette amongst the students in your class, by guiding them towards appropriate reactions when they receive their results that are neither bragging nor self deprecating.

Some students will always experience anxiety when faced with uncertain situations, your job as a teacher is to create an environment where students can feel confident, supported and safe so that they may put their best foot forward during exam and test time.

Fiona Tapp, is a Freelance Writer, Educator and Mom.  An Expert in the field of Pedagogy, a teacher of 13 years and Master’s Degree holder in Education. Take a look at her website or blog to connect.