Does your son easily complete homework assignments but freeze when the teacher gives a test on the same subject?
Does your daughter have trouble sleeping and become irritable with upcoming tests?
This could be a sign of test anxiety.
For high school students with learning disabilities, tests can often feel like insurmountable obstacles. However, these bright young minds can excel and reach their full potential with the right test anxiety strategies.
There is hope if you believe your high school student has test anxiety!
It’s natural for high school students to feel a little nervous about taking a test, but anxiety can interfere with their academic performance and innate love of learning.
Every student deserves the opportunity to shine and showcase their abilities.
Watching your kids face test anxiety can be tough, especially if they have a learning disability. But don’t worry – we’re here to help.
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In this article, we’ll explore powerful techniques that cater to the unique needs of high school students with learning disabilities.
By understanding and addressing these needs, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and supportive educational environment where all students have the chance to flourish.
What is Test Anxiety?
Test anxiety is that nervous feeling students get when taking a test. It can make their hearts race, their hands shake, and their minds blank.
This type of anxiety often comes from a fear of failing or not doing as well as they hope. It’s normal for students to feel this way, but when it gets too strong, it can make it hard for them to show what they know.
Test anxiety is more like a type of performance anxiety.
Like stage fright for actors or musicians, it’s all about feeling worried about how well they’ll do in front of others.
When students face a test, they might think their whole future depends on their performance, which can make their anxiety even stronger.
By understanding what test-taking anxiety is and where it comes from, we can find ways to help students with learning disabilities feel more at ease when it’s time to take an exam.
Is Test Anxiety a Disorder?
Test anxiety isn’t an actual disorder. However, the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists all mental disorders.
But it can be a symptom of other anxiety issues like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or a specific phobia.
So, while it’s not a disorder in and of itself, it can still be a real problem.
What Are Common Test Anxiety Symptoms to Look for in Your Teenager?
Knowing the signs of test anxiety is essential to spot them in your high school student. Anxiety can show up in many different ways. These symptoms may be physical, psychological, or even behavioral.
Common Symptoms of Test Anxiety in High School Students:
- Feeling nervous or restless before a test
- Having a rapid heart rate or sweaty palms
- Experiencing stomachaches or headaches
- Struggling to concentrate or remember things they’ve studied
- Feeling overwhelmed or having panic attacks during or before tests
- Doubting their abilities or fearing they will disappoint others
- Having trouble sleeping or experiencing nightmares about the test
- Feeling irritable, moody, or tearful when discussing the test
- Avoiding conversations about the test or schoolwork
- Seeking drugs or alcohol
- Underperforming on tests despite understanding the material during class or study sessions
- Skipping classes on test day
- Extreme fear of failure
By recognizing these symptoms, parents and educators can offer support and implement strategies to help students manage their test anxiety.
Check out our STRIDE group classes for your teen today!
How Can I Help My High School Student With Test Anxiety?
Let’s explore some helpful test anxiety strategies that can benefit your child. We’ll share tips for what to do before the test, during testing, and after the test is over, so you can find the perfect combination of strategies that work best for your child’s unique needs.
Strategies to Use Before Taking Tests
Before we dive into the strategies for test day itself, it’s crucial to explore the steps you can take to help your child prepare in the days or weeks leading up to the test.
These pre-test strategies aim to build their confidence, reduce anxiety, and set the foundation for a successful test-taking experience.
#1 Practice Tests
Preparing for a test is a big part of helping your child feel more confident and less anxious. One of the best ways to do this is by having them take practice tests.
Practice tests can help your child get used to the format and types of questions they’ll see on the upcoming test, making it less scary.
For students with learning disabilities, it’s important to adapt these practice tests to meet their specific needs so that they can benefit from this practice.
Self-testing is one of the most effective study methods, and your child will gain confidence each time they practice. First, ask your child to make up a few questions about the material they just covered in their homework.
#2 Create Regular Study Habits
Another helpful strategy is encouraging your child to create a study schedule. Talk with your child about the importance of studying regularly rather than waiting until the last minute. As a result, they’ll retain more information and feel less stressed.
They can avoid feeling overwhelmed and build their confidence by breaking their study time into smaller, manageable sessions. This structure can make studying feel more achievable and less daunting.
Also, break down the material to study into smaller chunks. Instead of cramming all the information at once, encourage your child to tackle smaller portions of the material.
#3 Create a Study Group
Creating a study group can be a powerful and effective way for high school students to tackle test anxiety together. Studying with friends or classmates can transform the sometimes solitary and overwhelming task of test preparation into a more collaborative and enjoyable experience.
In a study group, students can share their knowledge, exchange ideas, and clarify concepts for one another, which can help deepen their understanding of the material. In addition, this cooperative learning environment can also boost their confidence as they realize that they are not alone in facing the challenges of test preparation.
Additionally, study groups can provide emotional support and motivation, as students can encourage and uplift each other during stressful times. They can also hold each other accountable, ensuring everyone stays on track with their study schedules and goals.
To create an effective study group, choosing members who are committed, focused, and have a positive attitude is important. In addition, establishing clear ground rules and a regular meeting schedule can help keep the group organized and productive.
Incorporating study groups into test preparation can make studying more enjoyable and help students build a strong support system, ultimately reducing test anxiety and promoting success.
#4 Use Mnemonic Devices
Using mnemonic devices is a creative and effective way to help high school students remember important information and feel more confident when facing tests.
In addition, these memory aids can make the learning process more engaging and enjoyable, reducing test anxiety and making it easier for students to recall key concepts during exams.
Mnemonic devices come in various forms, including:
- Visual imagery
For example, students might remember the order of operations in math by using the acronym “PEMDAS,” which stands for:
What about: “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue”? This is a catchy rhyme to help memorize a historical date.
Visual imagery can also be a powerful mnemonic tool. Encourage your child to create vivid mental images that connect new information to familiar concepts, making it easier for them to remember the material.
For instance, they could associate a historical event with a memorable scene from a favorite movie.
Introducing mnemonic devices into their study plan allows students to make the learning process more engaging and fun, which can ultimately help reduce test anxiety.
Moreover, these memory aids can boost their confidence and help them perform better on exams, as they will feel more prepared and in control of the material.
#5 Practice Relaxation Methods
Finally, remember the power of relaxation techniques! Teaching your child to practice deep breathing and visualization can help calm their nerves and make them feel more in control.
By relaxing their body and mind, they can better focus on the task and approach their tests more positively.
Incorporate this strategy into a family activity with one or more of the ideas below. It is a great way to reduce stress too!
- Learn new breathing exercises together
- Meditate together (start with just 5 minutes for each session)
- Take long walks after dinner
- Start the morning with deep breaths and stretching exercises
- End the day by playing gentle instrumental music when getting ready for bed.
#6 Positive Self-talk
As parents, we wish we could always be there to support and encourage our children. However, it’s also vital for them to learn how to motivate and uplift themselves, especially during times of stress.
Teach your child the power of positive self-talk and remind them that they deserve praise for putting in the effort and doing their best.
Help them shift their focus from achieving specific grades to celebrating their progress.
By cultivating a positive mindset, they can build their confidence, overcome challenges, and tackle their tests more optimistically.
#7 Ask for Resources
Schools offer many resources for learning disabilities that can contribute to test anxiety.
- Does your child have an IEP?
- Do they have accommodations and modifications for tests?
- Can they get a test exemption?
I homeschooled my kids, and two of my girls had severe test anxiety. Homeschoolers in our state had to test once a year.
It was a week-long event at an unfamiliar location with kids they didn’t know. That made things even more stressful for them!
Luckily, their doctor wrote a formal request to have them opt out of testing. This was all the school administration needed to be exempt.
Talk with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor to see what resources are available for your child.
#8 Special Education Tutoring Online
Special education tutoring can be a lifeline for high school students with test anxiety, especially in today’s world, where classrooms are overflowing and schools are trying to manage the diverse needs of their students.
Each child is unique, and they all learn at their own pace and in their own way. As parents, educators, and professionals, we must ensure that every student receives the best and most suitable education, even if it means exploring non-traditional routes.
Our special education tutoring program offers personalized, one-on-one support tailored to students’ individual needs. This focused attention can help address the challenges and anxieties faced by students with learning disabilities.
In addition, it allows them to work at their own pace, develop a deep understanding of the material, and build confidence in their abilities.
Additionally, special education tutors are often trained in specific techniques and strategies that can help students with learning disabilities overcome test anxiety.
By providing a safe and nurturing environment, tutors can help students learn to manage their emotions, develop effective study habits, and implement test-taking strategies that work best for them.
#9 Eat a Healthy Breakfast on Test Day
Starting test day with a nutritious breakfast is crucial for your child’s success. A healthy meal in the morning can provide the energy and brainpower they need to tackle the challenges ahead.
When your child enjoys a balanced breakfast filled with proteins, whole grains, and fruits, they’ll feel more focused, alert, and ready to conquer their test.
So, don’t underestimate the power of a good breakfast – it’s the perfect way to set the stage for a successful day and help your child overcome test anxiety.
#10 Start Test Day With Exercise
Physical activity can work wonders for your child’s well-being, especially during the days leading up to a test and the morning of the test itself.
Exercise helps release feel-good hormones called endorphins, which can lift their spirits, reduce stress, and improve focus. It doesn’t have to be a long or hard exercise regimen.
Try one of these activities
- Playing a favorite sport
- Skating or skateboarding
- Riding a bike
Just engaging in such activities can clear their mind, allowing them to approach the test refreshed and optimistic.
So, encourage your child to get moving and enjoy some exercise before their big test. This simple yet effective strategy can make a difference in helping them face their challenges with more confidence and calmness.
#11 Better Sleep Routine
Unfortunately, test anxiety can keep a student up at night. A good night’s sleep is essential for your child’s success, especially when facing the challenges of a test.
Ensuring they get enough rest in the days leading up to and the night before the test can significantly affect their performance.
Getting enough sleep (quality sleep) allows their brain to function at its best, improving focus, memory, and decision-making.
It also helps keep stress and anxiety levels in check, making it easier for your child to stay calm and collected during the test.
So, encourage your child to establish a regular sleep schedule and prioritize getting enough rest. Doing so, they’ll be better prepared to tackle their test with a clear, well-rested mind and renewed confidence.
Create bedtime rituals like taking a warm bath or drinking a cup of chamomile tea. Check out these other tips from our blog: The Ultimate Guide to a Better Bedtime Routine for Kids.
Strategies to Use During a Test
Now that we’ve covered strategies to help your child prepare for the day of the test, let’s explore some techniques they can use during the test itself.
These strategies are designed to empower your child and minimize their anxiety, helping them tackle each question with confidence and focus.
#1 Focus On One Question At a Time
Encourage your child to give their full attention to each question individually rather than feeling overwhelmed by the entire test. Breaking it down into smaller pieces can make the process more manageable and less intimidating.
#2 Minimize distractions
Minimizing distractions is vital to helping your child stay focused during the test. Encourage them to choose a quiet seat, preferably away from high-traffic areas like the door, windows, or other students who might be more likely to cause disturbances.
By selecting a spot to work with fewer distractions, your child can concentrate more effectively on the task at hand, reducing test anxiety and increasing their chances of success.
#3 Follow Instructions Carefully
Paying close attention to directions is an essential test-taking strategy that can significantly impact your child’s performance. Sometimes, students might struggle on tests simply because they need to take the time to read and understand the instructions thoroughly.
To help your child avoid this common pitfall, teach them the importance of carefully studying the directions before they begin answering any questions. By doing so, they can clearly understand what’s expected of them, reducing test anxiety and maximizing their chances of success.
#4 Use Extra Time Wisely
If your child is allowed additional time for their test, remind them to use it effectively. For example, they can take breaks, review their answers, or pace themselves to reduce stress and improve accuracy.
#5 Highlight or Underline Key Information
Teach your child to identify important details in the questions, such as keywords or phrases. By doing this, they can better focus on what the question is asking and avoid potential confusion.
#6 What to Do With Difficult Questions
The best thing is to keep moving. Freezing or blanking out are common symptoms of test anxiety. Answer easier questions first while saving the harder ones for later.
If your child encounters a challenging question, encourage them to take a deep breath, skip it for now, and return to it later. This strategy can prevent them from getting stuck and becoming anxious.
With essay questions, create an outline first.
#7 Process of Elimination
When facing multiple-choice questions, teach your child to eliminate incorrect options first. This approach can help them focus on the most likely answers and increase their chances of success.
#8 Double-check Answers
Encourage your child to review their answers before submitting the test. By doing so, they can catch any mistakes or unfinished questions.
By implementing these test-taking strategies, your high school student will be able to navigate exams more effectively, reducing their test anxiety and increasing their chances of success.
Strategies for After Tests
After your child completes the test, it’s important to focus on strategies to help them reflect on their experience and continue building their test-taking skills. In this section, we’ll explore some techniques that can be used to process the test, manage post-test anxiety, and enhance their confidence for future exams.
#1 Reflect on the Experience
Encourage your child to think about how they felt during the test, what strategies worked for them, and what areas they can improve. This self-reflection can help them identify strengths and weaknesses and provide insights for future test preparation.
#2 Celebrate their Effort
Regardless of the outcome, it’s essential to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work and dedication your child put into preparing for and taking the test. This positive reinforcement can boost their self-esteem and motivate them to continue trying their best.
#3 Discuss Any Concerns
Open a conversation with your child about any worries or concerns about the test or their performance. By offering support and understanding, you can help them manage their post-test anxiety and focus on finding solutions or ways to improve.
#4 Plan for the Next Steps
Together with your child, create a plan for addressing any areas of difficulty they may have encountered during the test. This might include seeking additional support, refining their study habits, or exploring new test-taking strategies. This will help better prepare them for the next exam.
#5 Encourage Relaxation and Self-care
After the test, encourage your child to engage in activities they enjoy and practice self-care. This can help them release any lingering tension or anxiety and restore their emotional balance.
By implementing these post-test strategies, you can support your child’s emotional well-being, foster resilience, and help them build their test-taking skills for future success.
Wrapping It Up and Additional Resources
As we’ve explored, there are numerous strategies to help your teen overcome test anxiety and achieve their full potential. However, every child is unique, and finding the right combination of techniques that work best for your teen may take some time.
The most important thing is to be patient, supportive, and understanding as they navigate this challenging journey. Working together empowers your child to face their tests confidently and ultimately succeed in their academic endeavors.
Keep believing in them, and they’ll learn to believe in themselves too.
Do you have any test-taking strategies to share? Drop them in the comments below.
Here are some additional resources you may want to consider reading next…
- State Testing: 7 Ways to Help Your Special Needs Child Prepare
- Social Stories For Teens: Empower Your High School Student With Special Needs
- Life Skills For Teens: What Your Teen Can Confidently Master This Summer
- Anxious Children: Best Ways to Help Your Child With Anxiety
Do you have a teen that needs one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere? Our special education experts conduct their sessions online! Get them started with a free consultation!