Depression : Easing Test Anxiety for Students

Enrique Mata, El Paso Times, Texas

As 2013 begins, kids are returning for the second half of the school year. In addition to the regular school assignments and testing, teachers will work to prepare students for state standardized tests. This becomes a stressful time for children, youth and teachers. Kids go to class, study, complete homework and arrive prepared for tests more often than not. But test anxiety can be a problem for some kids, preventing them from successfully completing crucial tests.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety can lead to symptoms such as headache; nausea; diarrhea; difficulty concentrating; negative thoughts; and feelings of anger, helplessness and disappointment. The causes of test anxiety include:

-- Fear of failure: Pressure to perform can act as a motivator, but it can also be devastating to individuals who tie their self-worth to the outcome of a test.

-- Lack of preparation: Waiting until the last minute or not studying at all can lead to feeling overwhelmed or anxious when test time arrives.

-- Poor test history: Past negative experiences with test-taking can lead to a negative mindset and influence performance on future tests.

The good news is that test anxiety can be managed. Parents need to work together with kids when they sense a problem with being fearful or anxious about an upcoming exam. If the anxiety is too overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek professional help. There are professional counselors in and out of school who specialize in helping manage anxiety. Seeking timely assistance can ease the strain and help kids cope way before test time.

To manage most cases of test anxiety, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends the following:

-- Be prepared: Help kids develop good study habits. Teach them to study at least a week or two before the exam, in smaller increments of time and over a few days (instead of pulling an "all-nighter"). Try to simulate exam conditions by helping them work through a practice test, following the same time constraints. Teachers may know of links to online practice tests or learning games.

-- Develop good test-taking skills: Remind kids to read test directions carefully. For some, it helps to answer questions they know first, then return to the more difficult ones. For essay questions, have kids practice outlining their thoughts before they write

-- Maintain a positive attitude: Remind kids that their self-worth should not be dependent on or defined by one test grade. Creating a system of rewards and reasonable expectations for studying can help to produce effective studying habits. There is no benefit to negative thinking.

-- Practice relaxation techniques: If kids say they feel stressed during an exam, have them practice taking deep, slow breaths and consciously relaxing their muscles, one at a time. This activity helps to invigorate the body and maintain a better focus on the exam.

-- Stay healthy: Kids need to get enough sleep, eat healthfully, exercise and have some personal time. Physical or emotional exhaustion makes it more difficult to handle stress and anxiety.

-- Stay focused: Remind kids to concentrate on the test, not on other students. They should also try not to talk to other students about the subject material immediately before taking an exam.

The pressure of exams can take a toll on students. Talk with your kids and stay in touch with their teachers. Seek out professional help if needed. With family support and some timely healthful preparation kids will be better able to weather test time and succeed.

To learn more about local emotional health support for families:

-- Emergence Health Network: 779-1800

-- NAMI El Paso: 534-5476 or

-- Project Launch El Paso: 533-3132

-- Paso del Norte Children's Development Center: 544-8484 or

Enrique Mata is a senior program officer with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.


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