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How to Help a Teen Get Over Test Anxiety

Updated on April 23, 2013

Signs of test anxiety:

Many people experience anxiety at various times of their lives. When it comes to an important event in which the expectation to succeed is at a higher level than at other times, it can bring out a serious case of worry and anxiety. Examples of this might be: an upcoming interview or even the first day on a new job; the first day of school; a stage play or dance recital; a final sports event. This type of anxiety is associated with 'performance' and the desire not to fail. In this same way some people experience test taking as a measurement of their academic performance and show signs of anxiety with an upcoming test.

When my daughter was in school she was a little social butterfly...that is, until it came to tests. That's when her usual cheerful disposition would disappear and be replaced with irritability. I could usually observe the signs that would foretell of an upcoming test, in her case it was with the subject of math, such as a lack of concentration, a general restlessness, which would also affect her sleep, and a regression to a younger age, with whining, feelings of incompetence and tearfulness. Other signs that would show up might be avoidance and procrastination; changes in appetite and/or sleep; obvious changes in mood.

One of the ways in which I supported my daughter in changing her belief about her incompetence was to point out other ways she was very competent to enable her to disengage from the belief that the test success was 'who she was'. This was a very effective step.

Another thing I did was I told her the story of how Edgar Cayce, The Sleeping Prophet, was a poor student, except when he slept on his books. Then he miraculously recalled things that he had failed to recall in his ordinary consciousness. I explained that there are ways the information comes to us that is heightened when our minds are very relaxed, but which are blocked when we hold on tightly to trying to remember details when we are anxious. I emphasized that the anxiety acted as a wall.

She wanted to try to sleep on her math books and was delighted to come home with a B on her math test. She said her mind was able to absorb the information like Edgar Cayce, however, I felt it was more from her already knowing the material and allowing her mind to relax to let it in. Whichever it was, it worked for her.

Physical and Emotional Signs of Anxiety

caused by increased heart rate; slow breathing down
Negative thinking
Awareness to stop and think positive thoughts
heart palpitations
breathe in and out slowly
'What if' thinking
write or say worse case scenario and examine the logic
tension headache
massage the temples and back of neck; shoulders Apply a warm cloth; take medication if needed
relaxation breathing; communication; positive reinforcement from support person

Video about College Test Anxiety

What is test anxiety?

Test anxiety is a form of anxiety in which our bodies and minds react to our perceived measurement of how well we will do on a test. The 'performance' we must give is in the field of knowledge and how well we understood the teacher's lessons.

Some people who have a lower level of understanding written questions do better if the question is asked orally. The ability to interpret a question accurately will often make a difference on a written essay, however, on math exams it is all about understanding formulas and numbers.

The projection into the future and the actual taking of the test based on past history is part of the problem of experiencing this anxiety. Not focusing on the 'present' is habit that many people make and thus, they move into anticipatory anxiety...anticipating the worse possible scenario may create an outcome they most feared.

Learning to overcome test anxiety, or anxiety of any type, will enhance test taking and enrich one's life.

Dream big and achieve!

Helping a teen overcome test anxiety gives him the tools to move forward successfully.
Helping a teen overcome test anxiety gives him the tools to move forward successfully. | Source

Steps to take when dealing with test anxiety

1. Communicate-get your child to talk about what is concerning him. If he cannot put it in words, but 'blows up', ask him to slow down, breathe, and explain that you want to help him. You are not the enemy; you are there to understand. Be patient-getting a teen to communicate isn't an all or nothing endeavor. It takes time, practice and trust. If your teen does not trust that you will come through with your encouragement and support it is a reliable outcome that he will shut down.

2. Confidentiality-this is not the time to share your child's problem with the neighbor, your girlfriend, or the classmate's mother. If your child decides to share her doubts and struggles with you then respectfully keep her information private. If you are part of a larger family system then by all means explain to your child that her father will be part of the solution and will need to know what the problem is.

3. Support with logic and love-The last thing your teen needs to hear from you is that he is being 'silly' or 'ridiculous'. When that straight A student of yours expresses his fear of failure, don't disrespect his self doubts by minimizing his concerns. Instead, point out steps he has made to meet the expectations of the teacher: "'ve listened in class, you've taken notes, you've studied with a classmate and alone, and you've practiced-those are the facts." Second, point out that no matter how he does on the test you love him because of who he is, not what he does. Kids need to know that they are accepted for themselves, not their achievements.

If your child has not taken the proper steps to prepare, help him do so, or point out that this is a pattern that increases his anxiety and the solution is to make a positive change for future tests.

4. Visualization and Breath work: Teach your child how to visualize herself in a calm manner taking the test and to become aware of tension. Teach some slow breathing to calm her nerves. Tell her to follow a wave on the shore-breathe in slow (count 3-5) wave moves back off shore-exhale (count 3 - 5). Visualize her parents loving arms surrounding her or perhaps feeling your hands on her shoulders as support. Have her practice visualizing receiving a passing grade on her paper and how happy she feels about that.

5. Sleep and Food: Help your child to do what he can prior to the night before the test and teach 'no cramming'. Explain that his mind needs some 'down time' something else for him to focus on besides the test. Encourage him to get a good nights sleep so he feels well rested. Have him eat a high protein breakfast to energize his brain. If he is truly not a breakfast eater ask him to eat something to break the fasting of the night before. If necessary, fix his favorite breakfast as a sign of support and encouragement.

6. Don't chastise the outcome: No matter what the outcome, don't chastise your teen for not doing well, or not following your suggestions. Teens will often experience failure a few times until they decide its not worth repeating. Again, be patient and supportive. If there is ANY sign of improvement offer positive feedback. If not, offer a gentle reminder.

Practice these techniques until they become second nature.

Techniques of overcoming test anxiety

Breath slowly in and out like a wave on the sand.
Breath slowly in and out like a wave on the sand. | Source

Please take this Poll:

Do you have a teen who suffers from test anxiety?

See results

Role Modeling

As far as emotional mapping, how does your child compare to you? Do you ever examine your own level of anxiety? Could your child be mimicking the behavior that you've role modeled for her?

I had to look at this problem on a personal level when my oldest daughter was only six. As I watched a television talk show about the subject of inherited anxiety it struck a cord. It was just following my divorce and I was nervous about everything, "Was I going to be okay raising two young children by myself? Was I going to be able to find a job to support them, etc." Actually, the worry came more as a form of, "HOW?" How was I going to build a new life for them and myself when I was so full of uncertainty. I knew my daughter was experiencing a lot of emotional fears and anxieties, but until I watched that program I had no idea how strongly my behavior was influencing her.

It was one of those life changing moments of an opportunity to make a difference in my daughter's life, and thus, a difference in my own life as well. It was information I kept close at hand when I saw her experience little regressions or melt downs.

One of the key moments that stand out for me was when she came home with a B on a paper in first grade. Tearfully she showed me the "horrible" paper she brought home. I was shocked. I had to show her by example how unimportant it was to get an A. After reassuring her and hugging her I made up my mind to bring home my worse paper from a college course I was taking and 'rejoice' over it.

Later that week I received a C on a trigonometry test and when she came home from school that day I shared with her how excited I was about my test grade. She was obviously confused and questioned why I was happy about that. I gave her much to think about when I explained to her how hard the class was and how I had tried my best so I knew that was just fine.

She was always a studious child who took school seriously, but that particular lesson lightened the load for her and she was able to relax about her perfectionism in our home.

My studious daughter

My overachiever: hubber Cardelean; now a school teacher.
My overachiever: hubber Cardelean; now a school teacher. | Source


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      2 years ago from North Carolina

      John Ray, don't give up trying these methods in order to gain control over your anxiety. Also, be sure to do some self reflection and affirmation work. Reflect on where the anxiety is coming from; affirm that you are a smart, intelligent, and capable person who understands the exam and see if that improves your anxiety attacks. Good luck, and thank you for your comment.

      Billie Raucci, thank you for your comment. I hope your daughter is fairing well combating her anxiety.

    • JR Cuevas profile image


      2 years ago from Philippines

      In my case, I sometimes experience a coughing attack every exam causing me sore throats and sometimes, nearly vomiting. I have been like that since my elementary days and it is mainly because of nervousness and a little panic. But I get over it easily.

      Anyways, this is a very informative and helpful article. This is a must-read for people suffering from test anxiety. Great work, Ma'am!

    • raucciwrites profile image

      Billie Raucci 

      3 years ago from Illinois

      Great article. My daughter sometimes has social anxiety. So, your article was helpful. Thanks.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Carter! How are you? I've been amiss working on HP lately, but for good reason. I'm in the midst of moving to a new city, closer to work. Thanks for your feedback on this article. I deal with so many anxious patients, its difficult to imagine their suffering.

      I hope you are well. :)

    • carter06 profile image


      6 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Excellent information here Denise and is sure to help many who are anxiously facing exams/tests..Test anxiety is a complex issue and one you have addressed well..Not sure how I missed this one but glad I found it now and will share..Cheers

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes, ChitrangadaSharan, you have much to be proud of having been a teacher and a supportive mother. You are right that children need someone to believe in them and guide them to show them the way. I believe it is all of our jobs as adults to step in when needed. Thanks for your vote and share. :)

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      6 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub!

      This subject is very close to my heart and I feel good that I have helped many young children to overcome their test anxieties, when I was teaching them. This includes my children as well.

      Children need such emotional support from someone, who can be the teacher or the parent. Nice, engaging hub with very thoughtful advice.

      Voted up and shared!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Torrs13, for your feedback regarding your experience. I appreciate your comments.

    • Torrs13 profile image

      Tori Canonge 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      I work with teens on a daily basis and some of them struggle with testing. I can see why it can cause so much anxiety! I agree that being patient and encouraging can go far in helping them overcome the anxiety. Great hub!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Easy Exercise, for reading and sharing your thoughts about this article. :)

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 

      6 years ago from United States


      I wasn't expecting the ending! Wow! Delightful!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks, Michelle. I really appreciate hearing that from a teacher-former or not. :)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      As a teacher of teens previously, I saw this a lot. Great tips, Denise, thanks for sharing!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Suzettenaples. I wish I could reach out to all of the students who freeze at test time. Thanks for the votes/share.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thank you so much for writing this article about test anxiety. As a former teacher I dealt with this issue with some students. It is debilitating and frustrating for the student who suffers from this. Your suggestions and advice for conquering this are excellent. Voted up and shared.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, DDE. My nephew is now in college, and out on his own. But, he's learned valuable tips when he gets nervous or upset.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How to Help a Teen Get Over Test Anxiety it happens often and your hub explains it all in detail, well thought of and pointed out, definitely a useful hub, and informative to many readers.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello thelyricwriter-I'm glad you found this article useful. I hope your children are confident enough in school, and life in general, where they will not experience test anxiety. I'm proud to mention that my nephew is now in college and has met the demands of his first college class with the confidence to meet with his professor when he began to have difficulties. Thank you for the votes and share. :) Enjoy the rest of your week.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      7 years ago from West Virginia

      Denise, very useful article that you've written. My young ones are not in their teens yet, but I'll surely keep an eye out for these symptoms. Very beneficial article for any parent and written very well. Voted up, useful, interesting, and shared. Great resource that I'll also bookmark. Best wishes Denise.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Alvin, there is much I'd like to respond to in reply to your posting. I'm going to start with how to contact me via HP. Look on my profile page and follow the menu it shows on the right hand side. Click: FANMAIL at the top right corner should be an invitation to: 'send an email'.

      I'll be expecting to hear from you via that--just a short "Hi, it's me, Alvin" or whatever, will suffice. It will send the message to me and leave a return email address that I can contact you with. When I get that, I'll write more of my news and we can chat.

      I'm very curious about WHAT you are writing and where you are sending it to, if anywhere at the time.

      Talk with you more very soon, Denise

    • aykianink profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello Denise,

      I was actually going to e-mail you then I realized that I have no idea how to do that. Hubpages seems to fight one-on-one communications.

      Here’s some updating. I’ve been pretty busy. I’m actually writing more now than I ever have in my life. Which is awesome.

      Regarding Hubpages: I actually wrote a hub a while back that I was looking forward to publishing. I promised myself that once I completed one particular task, I would then publish the hub. So I did. Then guess what? Hubpages threw it back in my face. To be fair though, I guess I should have expected it. I wrote about why I love writing. I did not write about how to do something or something amazingly useful.

      I thought about this for a while, and I realized that I actually don’t have too much to teach people. Most of what I know is at a very basic level. The things I could teach I imagine people could get it better elsewhere or I would be the only one interested in learning/teaching about those topics.

      I do have some things that I think would be perfect for Hubpages. One topic? I once posted a single paragraph about it in a forum. People loved it. I could easily do a five-hub mini-series on it. But then I think back to all the stuff I’ve heard about theft on Hubpages. Why post things and have a thief benefit more from your work than you would?

      Okay, this is running long. Essentially: My opinions? Hubpages don’t want ‘em. My quality articles? Hubpages won’t protect ‘em.

      Honestly, Denise, at this point in time, you are the sole reason why I come back to this site. Thanks for wondering where I’ve gone. I think you were the only one to do so.


      P.S. Regarding test anxiety, I recommend pre-tests. Takes a ton of work, but it helps.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Michelle-You're a sweetie! Hope you are doing well. I think of you often. :)

      Hello MsDora-thank you for your comments. Many blessings...

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very useful. Anxiety attacks follow some into adulthood. Your techniques proved helpful with your daughter so they work. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Sharing again to help all teens!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello LongTimeMother, your comments make perfect sense to me. I agree that so many children have high expectations placed on them by their parents...then, there are others, like my nephew, who place those worries on their own selves. Thanks for your advice here, your comments, the votes and shares-what wonderful encouragement!

    • LongTimeMother profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Great hub, Denise.

      I always say to teenagers, "You don't have to pass an exam to become an adult. You just have to survive being a teenager."

      Then I point out that we know for sure they'll fail if they don't try it, but they might get lucky and find the exam is much easier than they expected - in which case, they'll get a good result.

      "Just prepare the best you can and we'll see what happens."

      I do feel sorry for teenagers who link their exam performance with parental expectations. We all need to allow our kids to be themselves. They should be confident enough to try without fear of failure.

      Voted up and shared. )

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Shelley-I'm glad you found this hub helpful. Thanks for your comments and votes. :) Enjoy your week.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      7 years ago

      This is another great hub, parts of which I wished I'd known about earlier in life. I feel deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth helps to quell the nerves. Visualization is a great tool. Up, interesting and useful.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Barb-Oh I can only imagine that with age you've gained confidence and the maturity that, 'this too shall pass'. Hopefully, at our ages we no longer feel the need to be ruled by what others think of us and therefore, the pressure of perfection is decreased. Thanks for your comments.

      Hi Nell. Thanks for sharing your experience here. It's good that those 'attacks' have passed. Thanks for the vote and share. :)

      Hi Michelle-thanks gf-hugs to you and hope you have a great w/e.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Sharing this again!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      A great read Denise, I used to get panic attacks and sweaty palms before an exam, my mind would go blank then I would downright panic. But after a while the words would come and I would be fine, but support from home was a great bonus, wonderful hub, voted and shared, nell

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      7 years ago

      What a Wonderful read Denise, very Educational indeed! Lots of Good & useful Information... I myself, have had a "Panic Attack" occasionally, As a kid, I would Panic at the thought of a Test, even though I did well in school. I was Always Grateful that my own Children DO NOT take after me.

      However I do find, the OLDER I get the less I PANIC!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      I agree, anxiety-test or other, occurs to all sorts of people. My nephew is going to his prom today and I had to talk him down from hyperventilating. He wants to go, he hopes to have fun, his date is a friend he's known for four years, but he has social phobia and anxiety disorder. I can certainly relate to your need to calm your student down. Thanks for reading this and commenting.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      It's not just confined to teenagers- I work in a British University and only yesterday found myself coping with a young man on the verge of a panic attack because he was handing in his essay to be marked! Luckily I calmed him down. I can remember being in an exam when one man screamed and tried to run out he was so frightened.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Kathy-thanks for your comments. Visualization has been a very helpful tool for me; unfortunately, not everyone is willing or skilled in using it. I have found that the relaxation breath work is more effective for the majority of people, including those who have a limited capacity to learn things. Thanks for the vote.

    • Fossillady profile image


      7 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Really good suggestions, Denise, very informative. I especially think the visualization and breathing can help and practice makes perfect! Up+

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Randi-good to see you. Thanks so much for the feedback. Yes, be sure to read Cara's hubs, too. She is quite the writer. :) Enjoy your end of week.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      7 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Great hub, Denise! It is full of great, useful ideas. The party that probably hits homer the most for me is " leading by example" risk you so much for sharing this and your beautiful daughter. I will have to go check out her hubs! Up+

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hello Michelle-thanks for your feedback and for sharing this hub. :)

      Hi Vellur-my goodness, I thought our drivers bureau was tough. My nephew had to retake his test three times, he was so nervous! Thanks for commenting.

      Hi LaThing-I appreciate your comments. Hope these tips help your own children.

      Ruchira-thanks for stopping by and I am sure your hub will be exquisite. We can link them together when you are finished. :)

      Mr Veg-a 30 minute speech would have freaked me out! Ours was 10 minutes max. Oh, boy! Thanks for your comments.

      Prasetio-What a beautiful thing to say...I appreciate your comments. Thanks for the votes.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I always know I will be greeted with great lesson when I visit your hubs, include this one. My friend, I learn so much here. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Up and useful :-)


    • mr-veg profile image


      7 years ago from Colorado United States

      Nice one Denise !Though I never had fear of taking tests or exams. I do remember my first school presentation where I had to get on the stage for first time and present a topic for 30 mins :) wow so much nervous and anxious I was ... Happy that now am out of the study zone and transitioned to work zone :) Great article for teens, surely beneficial...

    • Ruchira profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Great hub, Denise.

      Actually I am working on a hub on steps to cope anxiety in kids.

      Useful and sharing it across

    • LaThing profile image


      7 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      Very interesting hub. Lots of valuable tips. I remember those days of anxiety, and fear..... I try to help my children from my own experience. This hub is very helpful. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub. Children must write exams without fear. Especially in maths, it is important not to be scared and concentrate and read the sum. I hated my driving license test. Here in Dubai it is so very strict and difficult to get a license. Thanks for sharing important and useful information. Voted up.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for this....especially the tip on visualization, Denise. I think it is vital to imagine the good things that can happen so that we can get over the anxiety. Thanks for sharing!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Frank, I'm sorry the video didn't play for did for me when I double checked it. Thanks for the votes and yes, it can be applied to all ages. This title and subject was another one of those 'exclusive' titles that intrigued me. Nice to see you. :)

      Hi Bill, thanks for your comments. LOL I did not realize that you were unaware of our family tie. Yes, all of the hubs I have with photos of young children are my grandkids-the youngest two are Cara's. If you visit her hubs you'll see those same two munchkins, ha ha. Yes, she is very talented! Thanks for stopping by-good to see you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent information and suggestions, Denise. Okay, I have to admit this right now...I had no idea that she was your daughter. How did I miss that news??? Wow, the writing talent flows through your veins, doesn't it? :)

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 years ago from Shelton

      what a useful hub.. it can also apply to non-teens too.. thank you for making it easy to follow.. the video didn't play for me.. but it must be my lap-top.. nevertheless thank you voted useful


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