How to help your child ease test anxiety

Expert Annie Murphy Paul shares two techniques where kids put pen to paper and scribble their worries away.

Author Annie Murphy Paul writes about the science of learning — how people learn and how they can learn more.

Annie Murphy Paul is an expert on the science of learning. She says your hard-working child may not be working smart.

Video transcript

“If kids are anxious about a test, there’s a few different techniques that parents can help them undertake, to feel less anxious. One would be what’s called Expressive Writing. So, you tell your kid, if they can find just 10 minutes before a test, on the morning of the test, just to take that time and write out on a piece of paper everything that’s on their mind. It doesn’t have to be about the test; it might be about the test, but the point is to offload all your thoughts and worries onto that piece of paper, and research has shown that that relieves the mind’s working memory. It makes space in the mind’s working memory, so that the student can devote all of their cognitive resources to the test — not to monitoring or suppressing those worries. Another thing that parents can do for students who are worried is to suggest that they draw what’s called a self-concept map. Basically, you take a piece of paper, you draw a circle in the middle and that’s you — you can write ‘me’ in the middle — and then draw lines coming out from that circle, as many as possible, and just label each one with a role that the kid plays. Like ‘I’m a soccer player’, ‘I’m a daughter’, ‘I’m a friend’, ‘I’m an artist’. The point is to show kids that the test is not all of who they are. Too often, tests loom disproportionately large, and research suggests that when kids remind themselves through drawing and self-concept maps that they’re so many other things, other than a student. That really helps them deal with their test anxiety.”

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