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Five ways to reduce test stress

Does your child get stressed about tests? Follow this checklist to ease worries about standardized tests.

By GreatSchools Staff

In many states children start taking standardized tests as early as first grade. With the help of the following tips, you can ease your child's anxieties about the test process:

  • Get the facts. Find out the exact dates your child will be tested and which tests he will take this year. Check to see if the tests will be different in any way from the ones he took the year before. Once you know what's happening, you can help your child feel ready for what's ahead.
  • Talk to your child. Find out whether your child is feeling nervous and if so, why. Often children feel better when they voice their fears, so give your child a chance to talk about the process. If your child is afraid of failing or doing poorly, your reassurances will help him feel less frightened.
  • Help your child practice. If your child is familiar with the format of the test, he'll feel more prepared. Ask his teacher or check your state's Department of Education Web site for some sample questions or other materials that can help him get acquainted with the test.
  • Take care of the basics. See that your child gets a good night's sleep the night before the test and eats breakfast that morning.
  • Keep your cool. While tests have increasing importance, they are just one measure of student learning, so try to keep the process in perspective. If you remain calm, chances are your child will probably feel calmer, too.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/21/2012:
"Very right. Exam s/tests are only one parameter to value the student. These are never perfect. Chances are students get over/undervalued by the same test at the same time, depending on a lot of conditions. So, making one understand this simple thing help him/her keep his/her calm. "
02/8/2012:
"This school is awesome i love West Lincoln middle school i used to go there but i moved so now i go to Shelby middle school...i love yall i used to go to North elementary school tooo.. thanks for every thing..yall are the best school ever ever ever "
07/19/2010:
"I am a high school student and I hate the curves that are placed on our state tests. I got the highest grade on the Algebra Regents last year, and I worked really hard for it. When the state adds points to low grades, it makes those kids look smarter than they showed, and they get these bogus grades that don't really gauge how well they learned that year or what their academis effort is. As for stress, if kids are confident in their knowledge of material walking into a test, then they won't worry as much. Starting to study weeks in advance really helps, and that's how to get the good grades."
02/10/2010:
"I need help a.s.a.p. if it's not too late already. My 6 years old daughter is very aggressive,talks back to me and dad very disrespectful way, while punishment she sad to me, that she doesn't cares what am I doing, she is fine with it. she tears me every evening, I'm getting letters from school also she does't listens her teachers to, I've no idea what else can I do. "
10/12/2009:
"my son lives with his mother, older sister and younger sister. His older sister has bi polar, his mum likes a drink or two, and i feel hes stuck in a quadmire of stress listening and wittnesing all that goes on. Yet he still wants to return home to that enviroment. I try to him structure and stability only to see it fade away if I havent seen him in a few days. I tried being forceful using my voice of course it doesnt work, i will try the stages above"
04/20/2009:
"March 16 person speak English!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
03/16/2009:
"Mil gracias por su preocupacion e informacion por el tema. Solicito segun sea posible facilitarme informacion a cerca de este tema en Español. Gracias por su amable colaboracion."
01/21/2009:
"Funny--- today we send our kids to learn how to pass tests---ELA etyc--- what ever happened to just teaching---these kids can't put a proper sentence together---let alone know proper grammer---all to be politically correct!!!!"
01/20/2009:
"The teachers at our school have pep rallies for the FCAT, constantly talk about the foods to eat to get good grades, what colors to wear the day of the test, and some even tell the children their teachers will be relocated if the children do not get good grades. Needless to say, some children absolutely panic and have nightmares."
01/20/2009:
"My daughter says she's not worried at all over the ... tests. She indicates that her teachers have been getting the kids ready since 'forever'"
05/29/2008:
"I’m a senior at Humboldt State and am going to hopefully, attend Humboldt’s Credential Program. After a few classes in political sciences and several other classes, this is what I have came up. Testing should be every third year of a student’s academic career. Starting in the third grade and continuing all the way through the ninth grade; making for three tests; third, sixth and in the ninth grade. That leaves the senior year of students, which is left for the exit exam. The design of schools are even set up in a fashion that already provides an academic backing. That is, most schools are composed of k through eight grade. Ninth grade follows in a high school setting. An other reason for the testing to be at the end of the ninth grade is to test at a point where most students are growing an understanding of themselves. This option of three test set at bench marks softens the impact of cost to the schools. Even the schools that receive say title I funds have to use the money to administer and ship results. Not to mention the teachers time spent sitting around for a week while students test could be used more effectively. Anxiety of the students run high at this point. Every year students know that there is a standard that the government wants them to achieve. For those who test well there is no really problem but for the thousand of other students testing only shows them how “stupid� they are. Those millions of students represent a majority of the California classes many of which are falling at the way side- academically. These standardized tests are not only imperfect at measuring a student proficiencies, they are a failure to the academics of California. Not to mention the budget problems which is being felt on all levels of academics. Colleges are struggling to juggle classes, majors, faculty, campus business in a manner in which all parties are satisfied. But what will it take to get to that point where schools once again get the funds they need. It seems as though education is becoming an unfunded mandate. "
04/30/2008:
"I am a teacher, 20 years of experience and I have to say that the schools are testing the students too much. I am also a parent and I sit on the fence and I see how the scores are used to interpret students potential as if you could read the future and judge childrens success rates. The tests are tools, they are not predicts as whether or not a student will succeed or fail. Unfortunately, many times the scores are used to pidgeon children and that is not the purpose of testing. Tests are an evaluation to assist teachers in supporting and nurturing students. I clearly understand how children become anxious and stressed, the reason being is, I experience their environment on a daily basis and can observe what non-stop testing does to children. The creative and thought-provoking process is being stifled by curriculum guidelines that do not allow teachers to breathe the love of learning and communication into the classroom. You do not teach to the tests, the tests are secondary! to the process. Experienced teachers see this and are many times sufficated by a system that does not allow them to bring forth refreshing, spontaneous discovery. Hopefully, one day Public Schools will wake up to this and allow their talented teachers to fully display their gifts and share them with the beautiful students they serve."
04/29/2008:
"My son has tested in the 98th percentile in reading for the state and has been invited to attend college courses this summer. This is a child who stresses out about tests and grades. Since we have this No Child Left Behind program the schools have been leaving our brighter students behind. My son has asked me to home school him. Why can't we reach a happy medium where children who require extra help can get it and the children who require a few GENTILE challenges get them so they feel the need for home work?"
03/4/2008:
"Greetings, Please remember these tests are to gauge where you child scores compared to other schools in your state. My daughter asked me to what she needed to do to pass the NJASK and I replied to just be confident, think your answers through and double check your work. During the NJASK parent workshop the instructor said the test was made to trick the students. 'Trick Students'! How can they learn when they feel bamboozled? Remain calm and don't sweat it. However, I did send her to see a tutor because I could not remember to solve some of the problems (a college grad). It may be a little premature give students a standardized test that covers elements of learning the teacher has not yet explained. Good Luck."
02/22/2008:
"In response to the comment on 10-20-06, I'm an elementary teacher. I'd like to invite anyone who believes the non-sensical statement, 'those who can do; those who can't teach' to 'step into the shoes' of a teacher for a month. I think they would 'change their tune' very quickly. I am not asked my professional opinion on 'teaching to the test'. I am TOLD to do this throughout the year & weeks prior to the CT Mastery test. From a teacher's perspective, people who comment like this have absolutely NO idea that the state officials & town administrators make those decisions, not teachers. At one time (30 yrs. ago) I felt my opinions were listened to, but not anymore. So if you're going to 'spout off', please make sure your information is accurate & you know what you're talking about! "
02/22/2008:
"My son is 6 and says he doesnt like school. Well he has been going through a lot of change and lately he has been experiencing stomach problems. he had all kinds of medical test just to come up with it may be psychological, and his doctor recommended a counsleor. I have been a single mother for awhile, his dad is an active part of his life but he now got married and his wife has two kids and they are going to have a new baby and my son is having a hard time with that. "
02/11/2008:
"These articles have been awesome and very helpful to parents and family members. How do you quiet a childs mind after the tests though? I found that our child could not sleep after the state testing. He was so preoccuppied with thoughts of the questions coming back to him, realizing that he answered some incorrectly due to the 'jitters' while taking the tests earlier that day? At 8 years of age, I thought it was a bit too stressful for the age level. Warmest Regards, Babes Johnson"
01/30/2008:
"Where can I find samples tests, and curriculum for standardized tests for sta of IL?"
01/17/2008:
"I live in Florida, where 4th grade students take the FCAT writing for the first time, and where they will not advance to 5th grade if they do not score a '4' or above, even if they were to get straight As. This adds a HUGE level of stress to the child, especially if they don't feel they are doing particularly well in writing. And you can't minimize the test by saying its 'just one measure of student learning' when it ends up being the end all to whether they pass or fail 4th grade."
01/15/2008:
"These tests are to make the states feel like they're responding to Mr. Bush's ever-so-lovely 'no child left behind act'. The schools have to teach the tests and make improvments or they lose funding... makes sense, right? Take away from schools that need help? The mere fact that our young children need to 'de-stress' is cause for concern. Perhaps the powers that be should take a step back and look at what they're doing to these childrens' self esteem. One can say to 'keep it in perspective' but if a child in the gifted program at our school doesn't perform in the 'advanced' range on the test like a little puppet, they get kicked out of the program. But yet... they're to show up to school for these tests under any circumstances, including the sick children, or they're penalized. I certainly hope the next president takes a firm stance on things like this in our schools. "
11/6/2007:
"I am a student and these exit exams are stupid and not-needed!! It discourges students because we all know that we can make all A's all year for our whole life, but if we don't pass that one exit test... we will fail (in Louisiana anyway) I call it 'double jepordey'. I personally think that the exit exams are not necassary!! But that is my personal opinion, and you may think differently!!"
10/19/2007:
"To the #2 Poster: If the Principal, is not hearing you out, I suggest you go to the school district's board meetings. It's a great you pointed out about parents needing to know when and what type of tests are given in your child's classroom. My lil' girl's teacher is great! During back to school nite, she gave the parents like a syllabus, noting upcoming events, concerns, tips on studying and what and when my child's spelling tests would be given. She even goes so far to send in other bulletins in my child's school folder informing the parents of other upcoming events, tests maybe not mentioned at the back to school nite. "
09/20/2007:
"Standardized testing is just a way to create drones and destroy the gift of learning new things. It stifles creativity. Teachers are now just teaching to the test. Practice, practice and more practice. What happened to the original course? And now everything is integrated...a mile wide and an inch deep! And who gets all the money that is paid out by the schools for these test? NOT the schools, students or community. Jeb Bush receives a lot. Hmmmmmm."
05/9/2007:
"my daughter told my grand-daughter's school last in 2nd grade that my grand-daughter has a problem with speed reading comprehension. Has helped her every day for 2 yrs. personally. Child has been on Honor Roll all year this year,failed F-cat.Why did she not get help from school???????"
12/8/2006:
"I really liked the article from the teacher in Virginia. I guess I'm different because I really don't think these tests are all that important. In fact, I don't think one of the elementary tests or even high school for that matter has affected the outcome of my life. I would tell my 1st grader as much too. Instead of knocking teachers who are teaching kids to be successful in the requirements of the law (i.e. teaching the test), we could be helping our kids learn how to take tests since so much of life depends on it, whether its right or not. For example, I don't do flashcards or verbal practice for my child's spelling test, because she's not tested that way. I have her practice the way she will be tested which is listening to the teacher say the word, use it in a sentence and then writing it down. It's an experiment for right now, since I'm new to all this, but it seems like common sense to me."
12/4/2006:
"I am a student and i don't believe that there is anything that i can do that helps me, no matter how hard i study or who helps me i just can't handle tests. What do i Do"
10/30/2006:
"Why can't you just TEACH the regular material that is appropriate for that grade? I'm really tired of the teachers TEACHING THE TEST. If you are a good teacher the students learn what they need to during the course of the year. When teaching the test the kids don't get to learn HOW to Learn. My daughter is in the 8th grade and in ALL pre AP classes and learns from instruction not teaching of the test. If the teachers can't teach - they shouldn't. Those who can do... those who can't , teach."
10/4/2006:
"Tests should be limited to quizzes, not graded , and all tests/quizzes should be open book and calculators alloweed. Give the brain a break for more important things like thinking."
09/25/2006:
"It is a good basic article on test taking but if allowed the child should have some small amount of candy with them at the tests because when we are thinking that hard we use a lot of sugar "
02/27/2006:
"Sometimes we the adults instill or feed their fears of failure when telling them things like 'if you dont study enough, you will not pass' next thing you know all they remember is not that they need to study more but THEY WILL NOT PASS. Very difficult to ease the fear, great damage has been done. I've been there! But no more. Tell them is just to measure their knowledge but not to compare and what could be the worst? (although very rare) to do it all over again? reassure them with a big huge, I'll be there with you baby, WE'LL DO IT TOGETHER ALL THE WAY!!!"
03/11/2005:
"I liked the way that this article stressed communication more than performance. I teach 2nd grade in Southern California. It is unbelievable how many seven and eight year olds cry, vomit, and worry themselves crazy over spelling tests and quizes! I am noticing that often the performance anxiety has been set up way before the child starts testing...due to overly high parental expectations and competition. As a parent of two myself, I would much rather my children do their bests, learn the art of test taking, since they will be taking tests for many years ahead, and not get stressed out if they do better than somebody else or not. I am still working on half of the class learning to respect me, and how to do school. Too much pressure has been put on children to perform better than others, read first, have exemplary grades, yet the good old fashioned Golden Rule and whole child development is being forgotten, thus making the art of teaching more and more difficult, in turn causing the teacher to have less time to teach the standards and meat of the academics because she/he is too busy dealing with behaviors or competitive influences. Just a thought...let's let them learn HOW to take tests and to do their best. It is a time to show off for themselves! I hope this made sense and did not offend anybody. "
06/9/2004:
"Since many children have divorced parents, you can request that the school give your child two of all papers to be sent home. For the younger children at our school, we have two folders for them a Mommy folder and a Daddy folder. It makes the kids feel better. "
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