The night before an exam can bring immense anxiety to children. They might complain of a stomach ache, head ache, back ache, or just about any other body pain. They may feel tired, angry, or irritable. In reality, they could just be experiencing test taking anxiety. Try the strategies below to help ease this anxiety and help your child feel comfortable and confident come test day.
1. Memory strategies. Encourage your child to use memory strategies when preparing for exams, including acronyms, checklists, and other mnemonics. For example, he can use an acronym such as PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally) to remember the sequence in solving math equations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. Likewise, when learning the planets, your child can create a silly sentence such as “My very eager mom jumped straight up near Paris!” to represent Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. As soon as he is given his test, he should write down the acronyms and/or other mnemonics that he memorized.
2. Relaxation Techniques. When we feel anxious, our breathing often moves from deep abdominal breathing to shallow chest breathing. Help your child relax and breathe deeply to reduce anxiety before an exam with the following exercise:
Have your child lay down or sit in a comfortable spot with her eyes clothes. Tell her to focus on her breathing and rest her hands on her stomach to feel her breath move up and down. Then have her count backwards from 10 (or another number of your choosing) in the following manner: She inhales deeply while saying the number “ten.” She then exhales while saying out loud “relax.” Then she inhales again deeply and says “nine,” and exhales while saying “relax.” She continues to follow this pattern until she reaches zero. As she performs this exercise, her breathing should move from shallow chest breathing to deeper abdominal breathing, helping her to relax and reduce her anxiety before an exam.
3. Journaling. Encourage your child to write in a journal about her test worries. On the morning of the exam, have her sit in a quiet room free of distractions and write about her worries and concerns for 10 minutes. She can even decorate her journal with colors or stickers to make it feel comforting and familiar. A University of Chicago Study found that this type of journaling can help students reduce their anxiety and improve their overall performance on exams.
4. Incentives. Give your child a reward to look forward to once the exam is over, whether it’s a movie, dinner out at his favorite restaurant, an ice cream date, or a similar treat. Providing your child with something exciting to look forward to can help him stay calm and positive.
5. Test-Taking Strategies. During the exam, encourage your child to use test-taking strategies. For instance, he should answer the easiest questions first and determine an alloted amount of time to spend on each question. For multiple choice questions, he should read the question in its entirety before looking at the answer choices, try to answer the question in his mind before looking at the choices, and cross out answers he knows are incorrect. For essay exams, he should map out a schedule, carefully look at the directive words when reading the question, and create an outline before beginning to write.
The anticipation of an exam can be a daunting experience for children. By exposing your child to these strategies, you can help him feel calm, comfortable, and prepared, and ease his overall test taking anxiety.
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