As schools get more and more competitive, the stress on students goes up. Chances are you know someone in college or high school with test anxiety as a result. What you may not realize is that test anxiety is becoming a larger problem among middle school students as well. In this article, we’ll give you some tips and tricks on how to reduce test anxiety in middle school students.
You may be wondering what test anxiety is. Well, the definition of test anxiety is a performance anxiety associated with taking tests. It can manifest in different ways for everyone, but it commonly leads to increased heart rate, lots of self-doubt, and a general feeling of failure or inadequacy. There are ways to help mitigate these impacts and treat test anxiety, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
We are by no means mental health professionals and are simply here to offer some helpful tips to manage you or your student’s test anxiety. Please make sure you find a mental health professional if you need more help managing you or your student’s test anxiety.
Why Do Students Get Test Anxiety?
The modern world is filled with stressors, and students experience so much stress through their schooling. Although the stress from school is likely to be the highest during high school or college, many students are starting to feel high levels of stress and large amounts of pressure at a younger age. More and more middle school students are struggling with test anxiety.
There can be a variety of reasons why a student may experience test anxiety. For some students, the majority of their stress comes from inside themselves, while others feel that they are under immense amounts of external stress. Whatever the reason is for the test anxiety, there are plenty of ways to help students succeed, even with test anxiety.
Some students get test anxiety because of something else entirely. If your student has ADD/ADHD or dyslexia, the idea of taking a test may stress them out simply because they find focusing a challenge. Some students find that something as simple as giving them more time on tests can help alleviate some of their test anxiety, so take the time to figure out why your student has test anxiety and how best to manage it.
What Percentage of Students Have Test Anxiety?
Anxiety, in all of its many forms, including test anxiety, is something that is likely significantly underdiagnosed, so getting an accurate number for what percentage of a population have any type of anxiety is really hard. Some studies have found that around 25% of middle school and high school-aged students suffer from anxiety of some sort, but other studies have found this number to be as high as 40%.
Test anxiety is a term that is used to describe both a diagnosed anxiety disorder as well as a more minor level of stress and anxiety associated with taking tests, meaning that there may be significantly more students who feel test anxiety than are diagnosed with it. In general, studies have seen an increase in the number of students reporting testing anxiety that coincides with the increase in focus on standardized testing.
How to Help a Student with Test Anxiety?
The best way to help a student with test anxiety is to acknowledge their feelings and to not belittle their efforts or experiences. If school was a breeze for you, this might be a challenge, but tests can cause massive amounts of stress and anxiety for some students. There are some strategies to help a student with test anxiety, and we hope you’ll try some of these to help minimize the stress your student is feeling.
Test anxiety can manifest in a variety of physical symptoms as well as mental doubt and stress, and many of these physical symptoms are easier to help students deal with than tackling the whole problem at once. Students with test anxiety may feel nauseous, get headaches, feel lightheaded, or have shortness of breath. Being prepared for the physical symptoms that your student may have is a great way to help them manage their test anxiety. If a student feels good physically, it is much easier to focus on the mental challenge ahead of them.
Helping your student manage the physical symptoms can be as simple as practicing breathing exercises with them. Make sure that they have plenty of water and are well-rested. Hydration and sleep are a great way to increase your chances of having a clear head. If their physical symptoms are really bad, it may be a good idea to take your student to a doctor to have them help mitigate the effects of the physical symptoms.
If the test anxiety is more severe, you can treat test anxiety with medication. Just like any anxiety, there are medications that can help treat it, but there is no one medication that will help everyone. If you think that medication would be good for you or your student, please speak with a mental health professional about the best option for you.
If you or your student are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, like test anxiety, you are able to talk to your teacher and receive extra time to take tests or a separate room. If you think that having more time or fewer distractions around would be helpful, talk to your teacher and see what can be done. Sometimes a seemingly simple thing such as changing the location you take the test in can make it seem a lot less stressful.
3 Strategies to Manage Test Anxiety
When you or your student is in the middle of a test, it can often seem impossible to calm down and focus. Here are some tips that you can try in the middle of a test to help focus.
Take the test one question at a time
Focus only on the one question directly ahead of you as opposed to the whole test at once. Narrowing your focus can help the challenge feel more manageable. If it helps, ask your teacher if you can bring a few totally blank notecards or pieces of paper into the test to physically cover any other question on the page while you’re working. It might seem simple, but blocking your eyes from seeing other questions can really help narrow focus.
Have gum or water on hand or both
Chewing gum makes some people feel calmer. Mint gum also can help alleviate some of the more mild physical symptoms, so think about finding one that works for you or your student if the teacher allows it. If gum doesn’t work for you or you aren’t allowed to chew gum, try having a bottle of ice-cold water with you. Sometimes giving yourself a short break from the test to drink some cold water can help recenter you and refocus you. It also gives you something to do for a 30-second break, which can really help if you struggle to focus for long periods of time.
Take some deep breaths
We’ll talk about this in more depth in the next section as well, but taking some deep breaths to help you focus and center yourself can be a great tool for calming down. This can help slow down your heart rate and make sure that you have a good flow of oxygen to your brain. It might seem simple, but pausing every now and then throughout the test to recenter and take some deep breaths can be really helpful.
Another strategy to incorporate with your deep breaths is to ground yourself in the moment. The best way to do this is to focus on the physical sensations you are feeling. Focusing on something like the feeling of your foot in your shoe may seem simple, but it can often help minimize the feeling of helplessness. If this is something that sounds like it might be helpful to you, there are so many more grounding exercises that you can find online to help manage your stress during a test.
3 Ways to Reduce Test Anxiety for Middle Schoolers
If you have a middle schooler in your home or if you are a middle schooler looking to reduce your test anxiety, this is our top tips for helping to reduce test anxiety.
Create a study schedule
We recommend creating a study schedule and sticking to it. This will help your student feel more prepared for the test, and feeling more prepared is one of the best ways to help reduce stress and anxiety around a test. We have a great article that will help you create a study schedule that works for your home, so take a look at that if you want some help creating a realistic and functional study schedule.
Make sure you remember to take care of yourself
Feeling good is a great way to help reduce stress, so make sure your student eats healthy foods and gets a good night’s sleep before the test. This will help allow your student to feel their best going into the test and know that they have nothing else to worry about besides the test. This also makes it easier to tackle test anxiety because it narrows down the scope to just the test.
Practice calming exercises
This could be in the form of yoga before the test or a breathing exercise to do during the test, but whatever you choose to use to help keep your student calm, make sure to practice it before the test. Telling a child to do a breathing exercise or a certain meditative pose or move without practicing it with them can add more stressors into their day. Your goal is to remove these stressors, so try incorporating some stress relief and grounding practices into your study routine.
Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways to Reducing Test Anxiety for Middle School Students
Overall, the amount of pressure put on students to perform well on tests, regardless of the grade that they’re in is only increasing. Now you have some strategies to help you or your student manage any test anxiety you may be dealing with within your life, but just know that you are not alone. Tons of people, both kids, and adults deal with different anxiety disorders every day. Having test anxiety doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you, so just make sure you take care of yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself or your student.