Does the thought of a big test make your child sick? These four test anxiety tips are guaranteed to boost the confidence of even the most nervous test taker.

By JoAnn Crohn
May 06, 2019
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"And you can begin." With those words, my fifth graders in Tempe, Arizona, pick up their pencils to start the first day of state testing. The room is stone silent—something that only happens on test days.

I walk up and down the rows of desks, look over my students' shoulders, and watch them darken the little bubbles on their testing form.

"Um...Mrs. Crohn," I hear a student say. I swivel around. One of my students, who had been unusually quiet before the test, had thrown up all over her desk—and all over her test.

She wasn't sick. It was the pressure of the state test that caused her to lose her entire breakfast. And she's not alone: 16 to 20 percent of students suffer from high test anxiety.

I've noticed many of my students especially worry when everyone else seems to be finishing their test but they still have 10 questions or so to go. A constant fear of being judged shuts down their brains, impedes all coherent thought, and ultimately, hurts them academically. (Those with test anxiety usually score half a letter grade lower than other students.)

What I want to tell my students is to think positively and not pay attention to anyone else. However, those tips rarely work because the question becomes, well, how?

Here are four concrete test-taking strategies parents can give their kids to calm their nerves on test day. It might be hard to convince kids to try all of them at once, so start with one strategy at a time to prepare them for smaller tests. Once kids build up their confidence, they'll be better able to control their anxiety on major ones, such as state tests, finals, and SATs.

Do the easy ones first

In his book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, psychologist Robert Cialdini speaks of a friend from his graduate program who completely smashed the GMAT, scoring in the top 1 percent. His secret? Go through the test and tackle the simple questions first.

Students who do this don't panic when classmates sitting around them turn the page, and they don't question whether everyone else is ahead of them because they've already given themselves a really quick win.

Don't fret over the hard questions

Once the simple ones are out of the way, there will still be those questions that seem impossible to answer.

Some kids guess the most reasonable answer and move on. Others fret and vacillate until all of their testing stamina has withered away and their confidence dips so low, the rest of the test seems like endless torture.

There's a simple fix: Kids need to expect a few setbacks. They're normal. Let your child know no one else knows all the answers either and that's OK.

Remind kids of past successes

Some states, including Missouri and New York, have unlimited time limits on state tests and kids no longer need to worry about having enough time to finish. Unfortunately, that doesn't always alleviate test anxiety. Kids still compare their progress to their peers and judge themselves as they answer each question.

To counter this feeling, kids can use the power of conquering memories to boost themselves through the testing process. Odds are this is not your child's first test. Remind them of the time they worried about a math test but ended up getting a great grade. Or when they worried about failing and yet did really well.

Any conquering memories work, even if they are not school related. These memories simply need to reflect a time a child doubted their success and then prevailed.

Sniff the flower, blow out the candle

Ever tell your child to take a deep breath and it sounds like they're hyperventilating? It may be useful to teach them how to practice deep breathing because it can counter stress, according to research. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which works to calm the body.

I found this strategy brilliant when my son told me his preschool teacher uses it with the class. Just as it sounds, you blow in through your nose and out through your mouth. However, having concrete images helps guide the speed of the breath and produces a state of calm. Wouldn't you rather be smelling roses and blowing out candles rather than taking a test? Yes? Me too!

JoAnn Crohn, M.Ed., is a parenting expert based in Phoenix, Arizona, who helps moms feel confident in all things parenting. Sign up to unlock her parenting vault full of practical tools you can use today at