3 June 2019

Testing times: 5 tips to help ease anxiety in children and young people

It’s that time of year again where individuals across the country are busy sitting a series of assessments and exams. We live in an exam driven society, where even children as young as four are expected to complete baseline assessments, and the testing continues well into adulthood.

Despite regular testing, the prospect of an upcoming examination can still evoke feelings of anxiety. This is particularly true for children and young people who consistently receive the message that their test performance will affect the trajectory of their lives.  As well as being an unpleasant experience eafecting emotional wellbeing, research indicates that high levels of test anxiety negatively impact subsequent test performance (Cassady & Johnson, 2002). As such, we have compiled our 5 top tips below, which you can use to help students reduce anxiety before examinations.

Reframe Your Thoughts About Tests

While performing well in an examination is a great achievement it is important to think of it as just that – one great achievement. What perhaps is most important is reframing the way you view tests, and understanding that your self-worth and value are not linked to your ability to score 100% on an exam paper. Similarly, instead of seeing a test as a momentous event which you can either pass or fail, it may helpful to view it as simply an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths as well as identify areas in which you can still develop.

Avoid Cramming

Research suggests that studying consistently over a period of time is more effective than last minute cramming (Neel, Huynh & Fuligni, 2012). Also, procrastination and delaying tactics can fuel feelings of anxiety. As such, it may be better to develop a study schedule where you prepare for the exam by regularly revising content. By doing so, you provide yourself with the greatest opportunity to retain the information, while also increasing your confidence in your ability.

Develop Positive Self-Talk

Many people have an internal dialogue with themselves which too often is used to send negative messages as opposed to positive ones. If you are anxious about an upcoming test, rather than scolding yourself for your apparent lack of knowledge in a particular area, try practising self-compassion. For instance, instead of sending yourself messages which say “I am so dumb, I’m going to fail this test”, you could alternatively use language which celebrates your strengths such as “I know that I’m an intelligent person, and I hope that I can demonstrate my knowledge in this exam”. Developing positive self-talk can be a difficult process which takes time, but it is likely to increase your self-esteem which can act as a buffer against anxiety (Cast & Burke, 2002).

Release Perfectionism

For some young people, particularly those who have a history of high academic achievement, test anxiety is a result of their impossible pursuit of perfection (Eum & Rice, 2011). Perfectionism has been linked to the fear of perceived negative evaluation from others (Levinson et al, 2013). As such, for those individuals it can be helpful to recognise that the pursuit of perfection is irrational.

Having high personal standards for academic performance is not a negative thing. However, it is important to find contentment in knowing that you have tried your best, regardless of whether or not that is reflected in the grade you receive.

Seek Help

Sometimes test anxiety can be an overwhelming experience. In those instances, if you do not find self-help strategies effective, please seek help from a mental health professional. For many young people, simply expressing their concerns in a therapeutic setting can be beneficial in alleviating their symptoms. You do not have to experience test anxiety alone.


FREE Downloadable Resources:

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Cassady, J. C., & Johnson, R. E. (2002). Cognitive test anxiety and academic performance. Contemporary educational psychology27(2), 270-295.

Cast, A. D., & Burke, P. J. (2002). A theory of self-esteem. Social forces80(3), 1041-1068

Eum, K., & Rice, K. G. (2011). Test anxiety, perfectionism, goal orientation, and academic performance. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping24(2), 167-178.

Gillen‐O’Neel, C., Huynh, V. W., & Fuligni, A. J. (2013). To study or to sleep? The academic costs of extra studying at the expense of sleep. Child development84(1), 133-142.

Levinson, C. A., Rodebaugh, T. L., White, E. K., Menatti, A. R., Weeks, J. W., Iacovino, J. M., & Warren, C. S. (2013). Social appearance anxiety, perfectionism, and fear of negative evaluation. Distinct or shared risk factors for social anxiety and eating disorders? Appetite67, 125-133.

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