7 Ways to Help Your Child Prepare for Final Exams and Overcome Test Anxiety

How can you support your childrenespecially high schoolers dealing with final exams when they face test stress? Dealing with this pressure can affect not only the student but the whole family.

Watch for physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms of test anxiety in your children. For example, some students may get sick before a test, feel helpless and pessimistic, or have trouble concentrating and digesting the materials. As you recognize the symptoms, help your children to also recognize those signs themselves, so they can learn to reduce or even eliminate them before becoming  overwhelmed.  

1. Remember: You’re the Parent

Most importantly, parents should stay cool and level-headed. Many times students’ anxiety comes from not wanting to disappoint Mom and Dad. Well-meaning parents may put extra performance pressure on their children when facing exams; students may misinterpret your intentions as “only perfection is good enough.” However, it’s critical to approach your children with warm acceptance and realistic expectations. Help them improve and learn from their shortcomings, as the bigger goal is to support their long-term academic career beyond the current testing season while helping them become healthy and self-motivated learners. Model how to approach a life challenge for your child, instead of amplifying your child’s anxieties in your home.

2. Help Your Teens Manage Their Time Better

Though there may be just a few weeks, or even days, left before final exams, when a student sets aside time each day and prioritizes how to use the time, significant learning can take place. Help your teens to temporarily rearrange their weekly or daily schedules. Help them set up a balanced schedule so they are not squeezed for time, and ask them what kind of support they may want in keeping them accountable to stick to the schedule they have set for themselves. Numerous studies have shown that cramming for a test the night before does not work. Instead, space out shorter (yet focused) study sessions over several days.

3. Help Your Teens be Frank and Honest about Themselves and Their Challenges

In order to help your teens make the most of their study times, make sure they are honest about what they know, what they need to learn, and what support or help they need to receive. Go through a list of questions they can ask their teachers to find out the scope and content of the test in advance to minimize surprises. Make sure they know about the kinds of study tools that are available to them, and encourage the students to take advantage of them.

Often students avoid seeking help because they are simply overwhelmed or unclear about what exactly to ask. You can show them how to break down a problem and what specific steps to take:

  1. “Here’s how I understand the problem.”
  2. “Here’s what I have tried as a result of what I understood.”
  3. “And here’s where I got stuck.”
  4. Some students may choose to go further and ask, “Here’s what else I have tried, yet got stuck.”

Asking questions this way will not only help the students think critically through a problem, but it will also help those who are supporting them to better identify and address the roadblocks.

4. Encourage Your Teen to Take Some Time to Organize

Students should take some time to organize their notes and study materials in a binder or folder, quickly going through the materials and sorting them. It will remind them of what they have learned throughout the semester (and what they’ve had trouble with). As a result, they can better identify where to focus their studies. They will also save time later, not having to search for essential information.

During their studies, they should create a “Cheat Sheet” that has key concepts, definitions, and, if applicable, formulas that can serve as readily available reference material. Distilling what they are learning into its essentials will help them digest the materials and serve as a good, last-minute review before a test.

Students should also take some time to organize their “study space”—a dedicated location for reviewing and learning materials, as well as a controlled environment (with, for example, minimal noise levels and distractions).  

When students are organized and don’t have to spend their attention bandwidth searching for things or screening out distractions, the burden on their working memory is lessened, allowing them to make their study time much more efficient.

5. Help Your Students Use Their Review Packet as Practice Tests

Many teachers will give an old exam or review packet as practice before a test. Most students solve through the questions and study from them. While this can be effective, students will benefit much more by treating it as a real test. They should study the materials ahead of time and then take the entire review packet as a timed test. When they do, encourage your students to use the two-pass method:

  1. During the first pass, they should solve through the practice tests with a pencil, as if they were taking a real test. They should mark anything they had to guess on or didn’t know.
  2. During the second pass, they should use a different colored pen or pencil on the review packets for anything they had trouble with and have to look up or ask for help with. This way, they will know what they need to prioritize in the remaining preparation time before the test.

By the way, this is a useful practice when doing homework as well. Later, students can look through their homework done in two different colors to identify what they had trouble with throughout the semester.

6. Equip Your Students With a Set of Plans and Tools to Use During Studying and Taking Tests

Other tools and tips for preparing for tests as well as dealing with test anxieties can be found in our previous blog posts for students:

7. Help Your Students Dump Their Worries: Talk Things Over With Them

Take time to listen to your teen about what makes him or her feel nervous about the tests and finals. Specifically for high school students, listen to their concerns about the future.

Communicate with your child that setbacks do happen, and it’s okay. Have them prepare for how they will react WHEN they fail (because failure is a part of life that will inevitably happen), instead of worrying about what to do IF they fail. Just like learning to ride a bicycle, the important thing when you fall is to get back on the bike and pick up where you left off.

Experiencing (and surviving) a finals season is an ordeal in itself for the entire family. And unfortunately, it probably will not be the last time your teen or your family will go through it. Instead of dealing with final exams as a crisis every semester, debrief after the test as a family. Do this during a relaxed, encouraging environment (Tip #1 in this article). Review what went well and what can be improved and how, and help your teens be able to self-monitor their progress for the next set of tests by creating milestones, goals, and plans accordingly.

Good Luck!

We wish you good preparation and excellent outcomes as a result of your solid preparation. More than that, though, we hope that your family and your child will walk out from this season of final exams with growth and maturity that will enable him or her to be better equipped for success.

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More Than SAT offers trusted one-on-one or small group tutoring for ACT or SAT, study skills, and academic subjects coaching—in-home or online. Developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Innovation Lab, we combine an effective learning science and student-focused, individualized study plans. We equip our students for long-term success beyond acing standardized tests. Our top-notch academic coaches will help you get to your own success story. www.MoreThanSAT.com.

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