Symptoms Of Test Anxiety In Children And How To Manage Them

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May 20 2024, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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There’s nothing quite like the look of despair, panic or resignation a student gives when they hear the dreaded words, “There’s a test coming up.” It’s a look teachers and parents know well. After all, tests are a part of life; we’ve all been there and can commiserate with our children.

However, aside from the normal pre-test jitters, it’s become quite common to see test anxiety in children and adolescents. With up to 40% of students experiencing test anxiety at one point or another, it’s important to be aware of the signs so that you can intervene and help your child manage their fears.

Symptoms of Test Anxiety

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Source: Pexels

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, meaning you feel worried or nervous before an exam because of an adrenaline rush. Kate Sheehan, the managing director of the UCLA Center for Anxiety, Resilience, Education and Support (CARES), describes it as “an overwhelming stress around academic achievement.”

From my classroom experience, students care very much about doing well because they have consistently been told tests are important for future success. Translation: doing poorly means you are ruining your future. Those are heavy thoughts that can manifest in many different ways.

You may notice physical symptoms such as changes in eating habits, poor sleep, nightmares, stomachaches, headaches, or feeling unwell. But be mindful of the psychological symptoms as well. These include changes in mood, avoidance behaviors, negative self-talk, and withdrawal.

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Managing Test Anxiety

Unchecked test anxiety can negatively impact academic performance and self-esteem, leaving a lasting mark. I have seen students freeze and go blank during an exam, while others have gotten so sick that they vomited and had to go home. Still others have given up halfway through because “it didn’t matter, they weren’t going to pass anyway.”

The students’ worries over their performance got the better of them. The Cleveland Clinic and The Child Mind Institute offer the following practical tips for parents wanting to help their children manage their test anxieties.

1. Have open conversations.

It’s unlikely that children with test anxiety will initiate a conversation about it. Younger children, may not be aware of the link between the test and how it’s affecting them. Older children may feel uncomfortable sharing unpleasant feelings.

To normalize tests and shed light on how being assessed can make us feel, make it a point to talk to your children about it. Questions you can ask include:

  • How prepared do you feel? 
  • What would make you feel more prepared?
  • What worries you about this test?
  • What are you confident about?

As part of your conversation, share your personal experiences with tests. I used to share my test failures to demonstrate how a poor exam result didn’t ruin my opportunities. It helped put things into perspective.

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2. Reinforce study and test-taking strategies at home.

Your child may be experiencing test anxiety because he or she feels unprepared. In this case, get involved with preparations. Find out what strategies your child is learning at school and practice them at home together. 

Strategies I prioritized in my classroom and that can easily be practiced at home include:

  • reading tasks and directions carefully to understand what was required.
  • using the process of elimination for multiple-choice questions with the added element of explaining why each eliminated choice was wrong.
  • reviewing the format of the test to know the expectations for each section.

Pay close attention to your child’s study habits as well. Perhaps they feel anxious because they are not preparing as efficiently as they should. Simple tweaks can have a big impact.

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Source: Pexels

3. Seek support from the school.

Sometimes other factors contribute to test anxiety, such as learning disabilities or needing more processing time. In this case, contact your child’s teacher as soon as possible to discuss your concerns. 

The teacher can be more mindful during exam preparations and while the students are testing to offer encouragement and support. The school guidance counselor can also work on coping strategies with your child. If more structured support is needed, schools provide accommodations such as extended time, separate locations in smaller groups, and scheduled breaks for students who qualify.

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Marta Kargol
By: Marta Kargol

Marta Kargol is a former educator turned freelance copywriter who brings a unique blend of storytelling and clarity to her writing. She believes effective communication shapes ideas and focuses her efforts on finding creative ways to simplify complex topics. Marta uses her writing skills to help small businesses and solopreneurs share their purpose with authenticity. She is passionate about education, self-improvement, work-life balance, and wellness, all aspects of a holistic approach to success in life. When she isn’t writing, Marta enjoys traveling the world to experience new cultures. Learn more at or reach out directly at

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