It's normal to feel a little stressed out about a test, but some teenagers have such severe test anxiety that it interferes with their life. Many people think that test anxiety is just an excuse and that anxious teens need to "toughen up." Unfortunately, teen mental health issues are often stigmatized. However, teen test anxiety is a major problem and needs to be taken seriously.
How is test anxiety different from regular stress?
Most teens want to do well in school, and tests are big events. Expressing concern about an upcoming test, staying up late to study, and acting tenser than usual the morning of an exam is normal. Extreme psychological distress, "blanking out" on all the information studied, and believing you're a failure if you perform poorly on one test is not normal.
Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. The symptoms may begin before the exam, but they typically reach a peak while taking the test. The psychological symptoms are often accompanied by these physical symptoms:
In severe cases, test anxiety can even lead to a panic attack, which may feel like a heart attack. Panic attacks are sudden and intense bouts of anxiety even though there is no real danger.
How can I help my teen overcome test anxiety?
The first step in helping your teen overcome their anxiety is recognizing it. Many people who experience test anxiety are embarrassed to talk about it because they don't think others will understand. Even if you don't relate to their experience, it's important to listen and empathize with your teen. Honest communication is the best way to help you and your teen figure out what they need to do to overcome their anxiety.
You should also help set your teen up for success on their exams. Try not to stress them out or be too overbearing, but support them and help them develop good habits. The more confident and prepared they are before the exam, the less likely they are to experience anxiety. Good habits to promote include:
Another option is to suggest some relaxation techniques. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation are all great ways to physically and mentally relax. Your teen can take these skills into school with them and even practice them during the exam to calm down if they start to feel anxious.
If your teen's test anxiety is causing serious distress and affecting their performance in school, you may want to seek professional help. It's often possible to overcome test anxiety on your own. However, a therapist or counselor can work with your teen to develop better skills to tackle their anxiety. Even just a few therapy sessions can make a big difference and can help your teen keep a calm and clear mind at school.