What Is Test Anxiety?

Most kids have respect for exam dates. Not infrequently, this develops into an unpleasant handicap: test anxiety.

From an educational psychology point of view, this refers to the excitement and anxiety associated with the performance to be achieved, such as in class tests. It is currently estimated that around one in six students suffers from test anxiety.

Because this phenomenon is quite widespread, it is often underestimated. If nothing is done about the persistent test anxiety, the child is exposed to an enormous pressure of suffering from which he or she cannot find a way out on his or her own.

It is a kind of vicious circle: The fear leads to total failure during the exam situation – one has the feeling of not knowing anything anymore. If one then actually no longer manages to calm down and perform as required, such a failure can result in poor grades. Failures of this kind further fuel anxiety. In the worst case, the child gets to feel the mistrust of his or her parents, whereupon the child’s self-confidence further collapses.

Fear is not all bad in and of itself. It can drive us to perform at our best and keep us from making a mistake in dangerous situations. However, there is something pathological about continuous school anxiety. Parents of affected children should therefore by no means look the other way, but try to strengthen the child and intervene in a supportive manner.

5 Tips For Kids And Parents

The following tips are aimed at parents and kids alike. Depending on the extent and type of school anxiety, some measures may help, while others will not bring about any change in the situation.

  • Alleviate Anxiety, Boost Self-confidence.

  • Learn Early Enough And Use Learning Techniques.

  • Link Learning And Testing Situations With Positive Feelings.

  • Use Help And Support Services And Learning Groups.

No. 1: Don’t Be Afraid Of Fear

Test anxiety is at its worst just before a class assignment or test. You may suddenly feel guilty for not having studied enough or for having avoided the subject you hated until it was too late.

If you’ve had test anxiety before, you may even be afraid of the anxiety itself. Exam anxiety is something paralyzing that makes us feel like we suddenly don’t know anything. A situation in which you are plagued by acute test anxiety and feel completely powerless is something you don’t soon forget. The more anxious one is then, if it could come again to such a panic reaction. You simply don’t want control to slip away from you like that again.

So in such cases, you actually become afraid of the fear. Once you realize where the malaise and sleeplessness come from, you feel a little bit relieved. As the saying goes, self-knowledge is the first road to recovery. When adults use this saying, they mean the following: Once you understand what you’re actually suffering from, it’s easier to do something about it.

Avoiding Anxiety-provoking Thoughts

When you suddenly feel like you don’t know anything anymore, you experience what is known as a blackout. This blackout can be avoided by trying to steer your thoughts in a more positive direction. Because negative thoughts are the main trigger for such blackouts.

Instead of thinking “I have to get this done. If I write a bad grade, then everything will only get worse.”, rather reassure yourself with thoughts like “I’ve prepared as well as I can. Although it would be a shame if I write a bad grade. But in the worst case scenario, I can retake the exam and have another chance.”

Can you see the difference? You approach an assignment very differently when you try not to drive yourself too crazy about the exam.

Face The Fear

The best thing to do is to consciously put yourself in the situation that is causing you anxiety. Imagine yourself writing the exam. What will you see, hear and feel? When do you panic and how do you react? When do you feel most uncomfortable and what thoughts go through your mind?

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By repeatedly taking small fantasy journeys into such anxiety-provoking situations, you prepare yourself for them. With time, the exam situation may even lose its terror, so that you can calmly concentrate on making the best of the exam.

Emergency Tips For Blackouts

Even if you prepare well for the exam, you may black out. It is not pleasant when you suddenly seem to have forgotten everything. Nevertheless, stay calm!

In an oral exam, you can be honest and explain to your examiner that you just lost the thread. Ask him to repeat the question again. This will give you time to take a deep breath and exhale. If you want, you can ask the examiner to ask another question instead and explain that you are blacking out. Have him ask the question again only at the end. In some cases, this approach helps you to become clearer in your mind again.

If you have to take a written exam, you are on your own. Solve those questions that you can answer. In the meantime, you will become calmer, so that more and more answers will come back to you. By the way, this is also because your self-confidence will be boosted if you were able to answer a question.

No. 2: Study Early Enough Prepare Well

The longer you wait to start learning, the louder the voice of guilty conscience becomes. Some kids then try to distract themselves from it with other pursuits and block out the ever-approaching exam date. Then it becomes more and more difficult to persuade themselves to study after all.

Let me tell you: It is never too late to start studying. Even if you have been putting off learning for a long time. With good planning, diligence and perseverance, you can accomplish more than you previously thought possible.

Of course, it is always better to plan your learning well from the beginning and to learn a small amount every day. Then you are usually more motivated, less stressed and can go to the exam more calmly.

Regardless of whether you are running late or still have plenty of time, the following tips will help you to organize your learning material better and to study more effectively.

A Little Bit Every Day

With learning methods like the flashcard system, you learn a little bit every day. This makes learning easier, because you don’t need as much motivation to persuade yourself to study. Because you know: it won’t take you long to finish learning for today.

This is especially important for kids with test anxiety, who associate negative feelings with a subject or the subject matter. This way, the risk of throwing in the towel right from the start is much lower.

The Hardest Thing First

If test anxiety is compounded by a learning disability, learning becomes even more difficult than it already is. Affected kids not only associate unpleasant feelings with school and learning, but have serious problems catching up and keeping up with their deficits.

Not every child who has trouble learning, however, suffers from a learning disability or partial performance disorder. Some kids have blockades due to negative (exam) experiences and internally block themselves from retaining learning material. They need to gain the necessary distance from the subject of school and recognize their own value. It is important for these children to understand that they are nevertheless talented and have great potential – just like every child.

Once they have overcome this hurdle, the next step is to adjust their learning behavior. Now that the learning block has been overcome, they can fully engage with the subject matter again. Because some kids still exhibit pronounced avoidance behavior, parents should keep an eye on their child’s learning behavior. Does it “learn” the same, already understood, easy material areas over and over again, even though it has already mastered them? Does he or she try to avoid unpleasantly difficult tasks? Then it can help to tackle the most difficult together first. In most cases, it’s not the material itself that’s difficult, but the effort required to deal with it. Once a learning area has lost its terror, the rest is a piece of cake.

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Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!

Not everyone learns at the same speed. Some children only need to have read the subject matter briefly once to be able to remember most of it. Others still don’t know much more after ten repetitions than they did before.

For most school children, however, constant repetition of the learning material is unavoidable. This is due to the way our brain works. If we present a subject area to it again and again, it will eventually classify the corresponding content as important and store it.

To ensure that what is learned is also stored in the long term, it is important to go over it again and again. Parents can help by reviewing the material daily and then providing feedback on the child’s strengths and weaknesses. This way, you can focus on what’s still difficult instead of spending too much time on what you already know.

What’s true for school-age kids has even more importance for kids with test anxiety. They depend on learning material that really sits well. Only when they feel they are well prepared can they approach the exam situation with confidence. The “courage to fill in the gaps” learning principle may work for some, but it’s not an option for kids with test anxiety. In an emergency, a task they don’t know is enough to trigger a blackout. And that’s despite the fact that you could have passed the exam despite not having solved a task.

Whereas it’s enough for a self-confident schoolchild without test anxiety to know most of the material, kids with test anxiety still have a lot of work ahead of them. Because for them, it’s usually: All or nothing.

Well-tried: The Card Index System

The card index system combines the above principles of learning.

Long before there was at least one PC in every home, kids and teenagers learned using the flashcard system. The whole thing is very simple and works because you learn in such a way that your brain can retain the material as well as possible. For learning with the flashcard system you need either:

  • Different Colored Flashcards.

  • A Flashcard Box.

  • A Pen.


  • A flashcard learning program like e.g. “Anki” for cell phone or PC.

We will now explain how it works without a learning program.

Divide the subject area into difficult and not so difficult modules.

Then formulate questions about the subject area or use the questionnaire if you have received one from the teacher.

Now write one question on each card. On the back, write the complete answer.

Put all the difficult questions and all the not so difficult questions on one pile. You can use different colors depending on the level of difficulty.

Now go through all the question cards.

Read the question. Reflect. Do you know part of the answer?

Turn the card over: Review what you knew about it and what you didn’t.

Put the card in the back of the box and repeat the previous steps with the next card.

Go through all the questions in this way several times a day. Questions that you have answered completely correctly three times are put on a separate pile. You don’t have to go through them so often (once a day or once every two days is enough).

On the first day you start with the more difficult questions. As soon as all the cards are in the “3 times correct” pile, you can move on to the less difficult questions.

Repeat the material in this way every day until the exam. On the last day before the exam you can take it easy. Go through the questions just once and then relax by doing something fun or having a good time with your friends.

The Day Of The Exam

On the morning of the exam, it can help to get in some brief exercise. Run a lap around the house or do sit-ups in your room. This will relieve stress and get your circulation going.

No. 3: Get Help!

Most schools have student coaches or peer coaches who are there to help you through difficult situations. They listen to you and can give you valuable tips.

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If you need addresses for therapy or tutoring, you can also turn to student coaches or teachers.

It also helps to form study groups with other students. This way, weaker students can learn from those who have an easier time in the subject. Everyone has strengths in different areas. So try to support each other as much as possible. Maybe you can help someone in German and he or she can help you in math.

When you meet to study outside of school, be careful not to get too distracted. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend hours doing something more fun than studying. Then the day is over and you haven’t made good use of it. So focus on what is important. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break in between.

By the way, young people and adults also help each other. There’s no shame in not being able to manage on your own. At the university, for example, there are also study groups and counseling centers for students with test anxiety.

If the study group is not enough, then contact a private tutor, take the remedial course of your class or go to a learning center. Private tutors have summer courses that are specifically for post-exam candidates. Also, if you had a lot of trouble keeping up with other students last year, summer classes could be a help to you. Such courses cost money, but they really pay off. They give you the opportunity to work intensively on the topics you have the most problems with. At the same time, you don’t have to deal with the everyday stress of school. That’s why a summer course is such a relaxed way to improve your knowledge in a subject.

No. 4: Motivation Instead Of Anger

Many parents react anxiously when a child has test anxiety and gets bad grades as a result of a test blackout.

Parent tip: To help a child overcome test anxiety, question your own expectations and effects on the child. The child needs confidence and trust from your side. Many kids are afraid of a class test because they fear their parents’ reaction to a bad grade.

Others have low self-esteem and need much more support from their parents. They need to feel that their parents have the utmost confidence in them. This trust gives children the necessary composure to be able to rely on their own abilities.

If the child brings home bad grades, then of course one should express one’s own disappointment about it. But it is enough to do this exactly once and then help the child to look to the future with hope. Ask yourself what needs to be done now to facilitate the child’s much-needed learning progress. How can you support your child? Where exactly are his weaknesses? What would he or she like to be able to learn better? Could private tutoring be helpful?

Get an overview of the subject matter together early enough for the next class assignment. Help the child to organize the material in such a way that he or she only has to spend as little time as possible studying each day. Every day, already learned areas should be repeated. This increases motivation and gives the child its first sense of achievement.

Not every child knows how to learn properly. In addition, every child learns differently. While some find it easier to memorize something while walking, others have to write down the learning material over and over again. Others structure their learning plan themselves with highlighters and try to memorize the material as a whole picture before they start memorizing individual parts of it.

Together with the child, try to find out his or her learning type. There are numerous tests for this on the Internet. An example can be found here.http://www.veritas.at/sbo/extproj/Lerntypentest/lerntypentest.php

You should do this test together with the child. The evaluation will provide clues as to the most effective learning methods for the individual as well as supportive accompanying measures

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No. 5: Everything Is Relative

It is important to always make the best of every situation. Because it is natural that we are not good at everything. For every person, there are things that they struggle with a bit. Some things don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to get into our heads. Then it doesn’t help to blame yourself. Distract yourself when you start to worry too much. Don’t get sucked into a vortex of brooding and anxiety.

Instead, resolve to make the best of the exam situation. Even if you don’t know much, write down what you remember and what you have memorized. Once you have managed to concentrate on the points of the exam that you are most likely to be able to solve, you will be able to think of more and more. For example, the answer to a question may come to you spontaneously. Then suddenly another helpful thought comes to mind, and so on. In the end, you’ve written a good test, even though you thought at the beginning that you didn’t know anything about the subject matter.

But it is also important to stay positive during the preparation. Take advantage of what we know about the brain so far. You can do that by using the following tricks.

Chocolate? There Was Something There!

Associate the learning situation with something you find enjoyable. For example, eat a piece of your favorite chocolate while studying. You can also put your favorite stuffed animal at your desk so it’s in plain sight.

Then, when it’s time for class, take the same chocolate or stuffed animal with you. As soon as you feel like you can’t remember anything, eat some of the chocolate or focus on the stuffed animal. Your brain has made a connection between the learning situation and the present moment, so you may spontaneously remember some information you learned. This method has the great side effect that you associate learning itself with something positive and this way it won’t be so hard for you to talk yourself into cramming in the future.

A Resting Place For You

Many adults and kids who have concentration problems, are anxious or often feel stressed use what is called Autogenic Training. This is a method to relax the body very quickly and calm the flow of thoughts.

Autogenic training is something that you have to learn in order to be able to use it in stressful situations. How it works is quite obvious in principle: you allow your brain and your whole body to “practice” relaxing by regularly mentally repeating some phrases that make you relax. You can find out exactly which phrases these are and what else you need to know about them in books that deal with autogenic training.

This book is for your parents. It tells them how they can learn autogenic training together with you.


The better you can relax before the exam, the better you will be able to concentrate despite your anxiety. It’s important that you don’t let your classmates make you anxious. A lot of kids are still studying right before the exam, or they drive themselves crazy because they can’t remember something. This hustle and bustle is poison for you. Just before the exam, it’s better to go to a quiet place. Do you have a library or a quiet sitting area? Make yourself comfortable there if you can! Then, once again, consciously think about the fact that you did your best and will write down everything you could remember on the exam. Make sure to take steady, deep, slow breaths. If you like, you can focus on your breath for a few minutes. Try to become completely calm and not let anyone upset you. Once you have relaxed, go to the classroom early enough and prepare by putting everything you need for the exam. Refrain from taking another look at the study materials or talking to the other students about the subject matter.

Photo: maxim ibragimov / bigstockphoto.com

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