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Test Stress and the "At Risk" Student

By Judith Greenberg, Ph.D.
President, School Finders, LLC

Often students, who are "at- risk", those who are having trouble keeping up in class work, forgetting to turn in completed assignments, and not preparing properly for exams, have high stress levels especially before exams and big assignments are due. The stress adds to their fears and thus a desire to forget or ignore the need to study usually becomes the easiest way to cope with that stress.

Since most middle or high schools do not run an exam schedule that has different subjects testing on different days, students can be faced with two or three tests on the same day. A great reason to be absent, for sure!

Most LD/ADHD students experience heightened stress and anxiety before a test. Fear of failure is a strong issue for these students. Fear of performance and fear that teachers, parents, and classmates will know that the student did not learn or understand the information can create a powerful amount of stress. This fear of "being found out" also keeps most at-risk students from answering questions in class and the teacher is unable to judge how much they know or what they do not understand. The silence also makes them seem to be uninterested and can affect the participation portion of a class grade, thus, once again lowering a grade and adding to the fears at school.

For students who do well in other areas, such as sports, arts, theater or dance, the school component often destroys their self-esteem. In some cases. The loss of self-esteem drives these students to then drop out of the activities in which they once excelled, leaving teammates and parents wondering what has happened.

Conquering these fears can be accomplished even though students may not recognize that they have such fears or even want help from parents. The teenage years will make it more difficult for you to help your student, however, help is what is needed. If your student is stubborn about working with you, be strong and then try bribery if all else fails! Seriously, learning is a responsibility at this time in his or her life and if a student is fearful, you may need to hold out the carrot that gets your child to willingly work with you to overcome this issue. Parents can help in several ways. Always remember to work in collaboration with your students, when they are part of the solution, they own it and are more likely to do it. Empowering your child with the tools and techniques is the ultimate goal, so the first step is to work together to set up a study program for work that is due soon.

Most schools post the exam and quiz schedules on the Internet or e-mail the teacher, and start by getting the work that will be coming due and work with your child to prepare a calendar of upcoming study sessions. Each session should cover a chunk of the information the teacher lists as being covered by the test, thus breaking that fear and the learning into smaller pieces.

As a parent, you can do many simple helpful actions to break the procrastination and manage the stress. Calendars can one possible help, but with some students the calendar itself actually tends to "glare" at the student with neon reminders of what is coming. Unusual approaches may be more calming and reassuring for your student.

If so you might want to try one or all of these:

  • Help your student find class notes, handouts, review sheets, and any other class work. Past quizzes are helpful as well. From this stack, arrange information into piles that match. For example: Class notes on the Constitution should be grouped with like quizzes, review materials, handouts, vocabulary, important people and notes from the textbook. Once there are 3-5 piles of similar information, place a piece of paper on top of each or use the computer to summarize the important information that is found in each pile. An outline form is best. Now, the actual study work is cut from 30 pages, plus a textbook to 5 or 6 pages, much more reasonable and workable.
  • Weather permitting, take a walk and review. The activity helps to put a rhythm to the learning and makes it less threatening. These techniques work for all ages. College students agree that they work for them, too.
  • Use songs to learn by note and rote, develop memory strategies that work for this student.
  • Shoot hoops, if you miss, you give a fact.
  • Listen to soft music that has a steady beat or flow to help keep your mind moving along and keep other distractions at bay.
  • Include healthy food, plenty of it and near by. Put a box or bowl in the study area and label it "Study Help"! Even a stress toy like a squeeze ball, a handheld puzzle, or a stuffed animal for when things seem too hard to remember, will help keep a student trying!

Ask how you can be of help, days before you are needed. Try a few different approaches. Make sure your student knows that you are not making this offer because you think he or she will fail, but rather that you do not want to see the student give into the pressure. You are the stress release and you want to establish how best you can help. This approach shows love rather than doubt and is more likely to meet with success and a relaxed test taker, homework doer, and learner.


Learning disabilities

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