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10 Tips to Manage Test Anxiety

Your child performs well on assignments and homework, and clearly understands the subject material. But when facing a test, they do very poorly. They are anxious, freeze up, and do not remember what they have learned. Their results do not at all reflect their abilities.
What’s going on?
Test Anxiety
Test Anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. In situations where there is pressure to perform well because the outcome “counts”, people of all ages can become so nervous that they are unable to do their best. It can happen in many situations, such as:
  • delivering an important presentation at work
  • interviewing for a job
  • singing a solo on stage
  • giving a speech in front of an audience
  • making free throws or penalty shots in sports games

And, of course,

  • writing a test or exam
Fear of failure is a frequent cause of Test Anxiety, particularly where expectations are high – such as in Hong Kong’s high pressure schooling environment.

Perfectionism can also lead to Test Anxiety. Perfectionism is when we place high expectations on ourselves. It is not the same as having goals and challenging yourself to do your best. Rather, it is striving to be flawless and perfect, and is typically accompanied by self-recrimination and self-criticism when anything less is achieved.
Signs and Symptoms
Every person experiences anxiety differently.  Before taking a test, symptoms may include:

Psychological symptoms:

  • feelings of fear and stress
  • feeling helpless
  • mind going blank
  • racing thoughts
  • can not think clearly
  • can not focus
  • worrying about past failures
  • feeling inadequate and stupid
  • feeling doomed, “knowing” they will fail

Physical symptoms:

  • upset stomach, nausea
  • racing heart
  • sweating, clamminess
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling faint or lightheaded


10 Tips to Manage Test Anxiety

Preparation is essential to calming anxiety and quelling fears of failure. Of course it means studying, but it also includes ensuring that your entire body is at ease and ready to perform well.

1. Learn to study effectively

There are many study strategies that can help students learn and recall information more readily. These include effective solutions such as colour-coding notes, consolidating, using cue cards, and mnemonics. The BFDC regularly offers study skills courses.

2. Start early

According to the APA, years of research have proven that spacing out study sessions over a longer period of time improves long-term memory. If you have 12 hours to spend on a subject, it’s better to study it for three hours each week for four weeks than to cram it all in 12 hours the day before the test. 

3. Study in test-like settings

Fit in some study time at school. Research shows that studying in the same type of setting as your test can help you remain calm and recall the information you need at test time. Studying in a library is also a good choice. The abundance of powerful academic cues help students feel studious and focused.

4. Have a routine

Rituals and routines are calming. Figure out what works for you and stick to it. Set up your study materials the way you like, use your favourite pens, and wear your coziest sweatshirt. Be careful not to associate success with objects. If you don’t have your sweatshirt for the test, your performance should not slip.

5. Eat and drink well

Take study breaks to eat regular, nutritious meals to keep your energy up. Avoid surgery foods that create spikes and drops in blood sugar, and use caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea carefully. They can be helpful in keeping you alert, but they can also cause anxiety. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

6. Don’t forget to exercise

Exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can be elevated during exam season. Fit in regular exercise as you study – even 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity is effective. Exercise also produces endorphins, natural chemicals in the body that elevate mood and reduce pain.

7. Sleep well

Adequate sleep is directly connected to academic performance. A well-rested brain is far more capable of retaining information and consolidating memories. Tweens and teens need 9-10 hours of sleep a night, especially during test time.

8. Talk to your teacher

If you are unclear about anything at all, follow up with your teacher. Enter the test confident you did everything you could to understand the subject material. Ask your teacher what is expected to be on the test so you can focus on the stuff that matters most.

9. Learn to relax

Even with preparation, anxiety can get the better of you. Relaxation techniques will help calm your mind and body before and during a test. Deep breathing, tensing and relaxing your muscles, and visualising relaxing settings are all helpful.

10. Address learning needs

If your child has a learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, there are testing accommodations available. These include more time to complete the test and using a keyboard to type answers. The use of accommodations require a diagnosis from a trained mental health professional.

If your child struggles with test anxiety, or appears to have a learning disability, contact the BFDC. We can help.