Have you ever been plagued by a worry so intense that you can’t focus on the very thing that has you worried?
It’s quite a conundrum.
A blank stare settles on your face as concentration gets disrupted by negative self-talk.
“I can’t do this.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“I want to give up.”
Worry can have debilitating effects.
For many students, this self-defeating mechanism takes hold sometime between kindergarten and senior year of high school as students face dozens of academic tests. Change up the name and call them quizzes, exams or assessments. Nonetheless, these evaluative measures are stressing kids out.
Test Anxiety Explained
Test anxiety is a reality and can begin manifesting itself as early as elementary school. About 16-20% of students face high test anxiety which can impact school performance, self-esteem and overall attitude towards school.
In some school systems, students have to face more than 100 standardized tests during their educational career. That’s a lot of grueling hours to prepare for the test, and then the act of taking the test.
Can you imagine having seven formal evaluations per year over a decade in your job?
It’s no wonder that testing is a major source of stress for students.
Studying turns into an emotional outburst filled with frustration and anger, along with a desperate plea to stay home from school. Physiological effects can kick in too. Headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and even a panic attack can be triggered by test anxiety.
And the academic stress can weigh on the entire household. School can become a subject fraught with emotion. Parents want to hold their children to high academic expectations without pushing them over the edge.
So do you keep your kid home so they can cram in more study time before a test day?
Well, is that a precedent you’d want to set? Probably not.
Causes of Test Anxiety
While inadequate preparation for an assessment can be a cause for test anxiety, it’s not the only factor. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that poor test history and fear of failure can also explain why a child may suffer from test anxiety.
Students create an academic self-concept based on their prior experiences in school which get further reinforced by parents and teachers.
If a child has a negative experience failing an assessment or graded assignment, this can be an inhibiting factor on future tests.
How do you help your kid combat these haunting memories of failure?
Combating Test Anxiety
Carol Dweck, an acclaimed psychology professor at Stanford University, has pioneered the notion of the growth mindset. Dweck’s research suggests that our abilities and performance are not fixed.
One failure is not indicative of future failures. Improvement can be made.
And young minds are in dire need of realizing that their potential is not limited by previous experiences.
Educators and parents can help foster a growth mindset by encouraging kids to set small, attainable goals and help students find value in the learning process.
Using principles of the growth mindset, kids can adopt a can-do attitude that’s encouraging to help squash fear of failure.
Helping your child reframe their thinking when it comes to tests is feasible in the home, but what about their future? Even if your child is young, you may have college on the mind.
How will this test anxiety impact a student after high school graduation?
Shifting Thoughts on Standardized Testing
While educational experts have been in talks about best practices to assess student knowledge, testing isn’t likely to go away, but the implications are shifting.
Universities have joined the conversation in rethinking what they are looking for in prospective students.
Test scores, for one, may begin to carry less weight than they used to in the college admissions process.
George Washington University has even made the SAT optional. GWU found that GPA and scholastic records were more accurate predictors of success in college than standardized test scores.
Test performance doesn’t tell the whole story.
Although tests can be important measures of knowledge and/or aptitude, there are some valuable assets that tests scores don’t always capture.
Admirable qualities like emotional intelligence, time management, interpersonal skills, being goal-oriented and creativity aren’t likely to show up in the results of a standardized test, but these life skills can be put to use in the real world.
It’s worth reminding kids of what information tests can’t reveal as they navigate their educational world that’s ridden with high-stakes testing.