For many students, the process of completing a standardized test is stressful. Fear of failure and the fear of being left behind can make a student feel test anxiety on exams like the ACT and SAT. Even for students with high GPAs and other successful endeavors inside and outside of the classroom, their scores on standardized tests might not reflect their high level of achievement because of test anxiety.
How to Help a Teen Overcome Test Anxiety
Jed Applerouth says on his site,
We want success. But we also want happiness. And these are not mutually incompatible. One of the inner dynamics to drive performance involves the use of fear and anxiety and self-criticism to motivate. We all have an inner critic that can loom large in our internal monologue.
Applerouth believes the path to healthy self-motivation starts with changing a student’s inner monologue or his “self-talk.” Not only does the student need coaching towards healthier self-talk but parents do, too.
He explains, “When your student has a set-back, what does the student tell himself or herself? The Wise Adult, the nurturing, healthy, internalized parent, might say “It’s going to be okay – you can learn from this.” The Critic might say “You’re such an idiot, how could you do that?” For some students, the inner critic runs rampant, and Wise Adult rarely makes an appearance.”
By tutoring and coaching students with explanations of the neuroscience behind feelings of anxiety during test taking, Applerouth is able to help students change their inner monologues. He uses a combination of cognitive behavioral techniques as well as techniques he’s learned over his almost 20-year career as an expert in the field. He says,
I hunt for the negative self-messages the students are feeding themselves. We tap into a little positive psychology: are the students using their imagination in the service of their goals? Do they have a success-approach orientation or a failure-avoidant orientation? We’ll often do some cognitive rehearsal: eyes closed, breathing slowed, activating the mind, playing out a successful testing experience, activating the senses, laying down a new neural pathway to be accessed later.
Even a single word on an exam can be a road block that will cause a student to immediately feel test anxiety or what Applerouth calls an “Uh-oh moment.” Sometimes, by simply explaining the mechanics of how the brain works and how students can be “tricked” into feeling anxiety during a test, a student can talk themselves through a stressful section of an exam. He helps his students recognize the cycle of anxiety and teaches them ways to put distance between themselves and their anxieties.
With a personal advisor and a personalized study plan, Applerouth’s students are able to pinpoint areas that cause them test anxiety and develop strategies that are specific to their test taking needs. According to their website,
Many Applerouth families find that higher test scores can help ease the financial burden of a four-year tuition bill. A high score on the PSAT can qualify students for National Merit Scholarships, while a high SAT or ACT score can pave the way for merit-based scholarships at most colleges and universities. In 2016, Applerouth students were offered over $13 million in scholarships.
“Test anxiety is real. And its effects can be debilitating. Why not nip anxiety in the bud for domains beyond test taking?” Applerouth advises.