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Ideas for Test-Taking Anxiety in Elementary Age Students

by Soheila Battaglia

As the practice of standardized testing grows more prevalent, the stress, pressure and anxiety it produces in students increases as well. Even at the elementary level, students can exhibit negative signs of anxiety in their health, behavior and grades. Parents and instructors can help students reduce anxiety by teaching relaxation techniques and promoting punctuality and positive thinking.

Use Relaxation Exercises

Relaxation exercises aren't just for adults. While some elementary school students can use more advanced techniques like yoga and mediation, there are simpler strategies to reduce children's anxiety. Both before and during an exam, students can do simple breathing exercises in which they take three to four slow breaths, counting to five or six on each inhale and each exhale. If they take a few moments to focus on their breathing, this can make students feel more calm and focused. They can also actively relax their bodies by thinking of one segment of their bodies -- such as their wrists or their neck -- to ease the tension one body part at a time.

Be on Time

On the morning of the test, parents and students should plan ahead so students don't have to rush. PBS Kids warns that worrying about being late -- both in terms of being chastised for tardiness and missing important material -- as well as the general pace of hurrying, can create unnecessary stress in young students. Always arrive with enough time to reach the location, to find parking and to give young students time to settle in with some excess time planned in.

Be Well Prepared

If the test is one that students can study for, parents should help their children as best they can to prepare beforehand. Kids should pace their studying over a few weeks so they're not left cramming one or two nights ahead of the exam. Being well-prepared for a test gives students a sense of confidence that can translate into calmness and a more successful score. If students have studied and reviewed the material over a long period of time, the night before the exam they should do something relaxing or fun, and then get a good night's sleep. This will set a more relaxed tone for the following morning.

Promote Positive Thinking

Parents and teachers can help reduce anxiety in elementary students by making them aware of the narrative in their minds. Students may be saying to themselves: "I always fail!" or "I hate this." Adults should encourage students to replace these negative thoughts with positive messages, such as "The more tests I take the better I'll get," or "I can do well on this test." The Washington Post notes that students can often fall victim to a sense of fear and impending failure as a result of test anxiety. Parents should emphasize and validate children's effort over their ability to attain a particular score to increase their confidence and reduce their anxiety.

About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

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