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A parent left a comment on the post about the Hardest Kids to Tutor, asking for suggestions to reduce test anxiety:

And how does one stop test anxiety in it’s tracks? I have twins who both have it. One takes medication for it. But, to stop it when it pops up-impossible unless you want a neurotic child.

Start with the following:

1) Buy the book Test Success by Dr. Ben Bernstein. It’s filled with practical techniques that show how to recognize the signs of, and how to combat test anxiety. Dr. Bernstein’s suggestions include breathing and relaxation exercises, uncrossing your arms, keeping both feet on the ground, etc. Definitely worth reading.

2) More practice leads to less anxiety. I’d even go so far as try to create anxiety producing conditions. For instance, I was practicing with my daughter the other day and she shushed me because I was being too noisy (ever so slightly, and apparently, noise makes her anxious). I said NO! Because the kids at the SAT were noisier. In fact, they stretch their arms into your space, and yawn, and drop pencils and calculators, etc. Dr. Bernstein says that you have to cultivate the ability to focus—despite problems.

Sheldon Word-Nerd offered similar suggestions in the comments:

1) Try relaxation training and identifying the types of thoughts/habits that spur anxiety. Then you just try to develop a different response to those thoughts. It’s a little like CBT therapy. For example, write down how you feel when you “freeze.” I’ve had students realize that their beliefs are just plain silly when they’re on paper in front of them. Kids tend to take one example of struggling with a math question to mean “I’m terrible at math,” but they won’t label themselves as grumpy people if they have one bad day. They need to learn to cut themselves the same slack when it comes to not knowing how to do a question!

2) Prepare for the anxiety, just like you prepare for the SAT. Make up scenarios – even completely ridiculous ones – that might happen on test day, then come up with a plan for how to respond. If a kid worries about getting sick during the test, strategize about what to do if that happens. You’re over-preparing, of course, but just as you said above, preparation is a major anxiety-fighter.

Don’t rule out test anxiety if you’re underperforming. The stress levels have to be just right in order to perform optimally.


The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT will be published on February 25, 2014.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis