My 3rd and 7th grade sons are getting ready for ISTEP next week, and it seems like they have been preparing for ISTEP all school year. Thankfully, neither of them have test anxiety unlike some of our friends' children who literally become physically ill over the thought of taking a test. Last week, my 3rd grade son's teacher sent home a piece of paper and asked that we write him a letter to read before taking ISTEP. She asked that the letter be "encouraging" and nothing that would put undue added pressure and stress on students. They are also providing breakfast for students to help them be fortified for the test.
Some students will stress out for weeks about taking a test, some students won't be effected at all. Only you will know your child and how they can handle tests but there are some things you can do to help them be better prepared. How can you tell if your child has test anxiety beyond what is considered "normal"? Here are some things to look for:
1. if they tell you they doubt their ability to take the test and have constant negative thoughts about failing and not being able to finish the test
2. they may be anxious because they feel they have to answer every question correctly, resulting in their being unable to complete the test because they are constantly changing their answers or second guessing themselves
3. some students may experience physical symptoms such as headache, stomachache, and nausea
What can parents do?
1. make sure your child get enough sleep, not only the night before the test, but the week before the test
2. check on your child's academic progress throughout the semester so you know where they are with their grades before a major test has to be taken
3. don't be overly reassuring and telling your child that they will "ace the test" and "do great" because that might place unrealistic expectations on them and if they do not do as well on the test as you said they would, they will be even more anxious the next time they take a test
4. help your child stop their negative thinking - if they say "I always fail my tests" help them look back at their test grades and realize they don't fail every test
5. don't let your child avoid the test by staying home from school
6. do practice questions with your child if that is applicable - many tests have free on line study components and even games that students can use to prepare
7. know when to get professional help - if your child develops low self esteem or depression, or extreme anxiety about going to school in general and refuses to go to school, your child may need professional help
Above all, let your child know that test scores don't have anything to do with their self worth and who they are as a person. After all, this is only a test.