More rest, less stress on test day

March 27, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Parent Today shared the following information in advance of 2013 state standardized test for students in grades 3-8. We republish it here so you can help prepare your child for another test season.

Some students thrive on test stress; others experience intense anxiety that leaves them feeling physically ill – stomachaches, headaches, etc. – and sometimes unable to sleep.

Help your children identify what they are feeling and give them the tools they need so they can learn to manage stress and related emotions, such as self-doubt, anger, frustration and anxiety. Stress-management skills will serve them well as they face anxiety-inducing challenges throughout life.

In addition to managing emotions, your child should understand that physical preparation – such as eating a healthy breakfast and getting enough sleep – can ensure they have enough energy and stamina to think and analyze for a sustained period of time.

Get enough sleep.

One study showed that students who got eight hours of sleep the night before a test were three times more likely to answer a question correctly than those who didn’t. Adequate sleep – 8-10 hours per night – helps ensure children have the energy and stamina to make it through the test in top form.

Eat a healthy breakfast.

Start the day with a meal that includes complex carbohydrates and protein so energy lasts as long as possible. Eggs, cereal and whole-wheat toast give the brain what it needs to help you think more clearly and much longer compared to high-sugar selections. A healthy breakfast can boost memory and help a child be more alert – a definite recipe for test success!


Studies show that physical activity helps improve attention and how fast students process information. Exercise leading up to test day can be excellent mental preparation – not to mention fresh air helps clear the head.

Have fun.

Take time to do something fun the night before a big test – whether it’s playing a board game or spending time riding bikes together as a family. Having fun is a helpful distraction from stress.

Write it out.

Writing about test stress can be a great way to conquer it. The idea is to get rid of stress by putting it all down on paper. Suggest your child write for 5-10 minutes about test stress. It can be an empowering way to frame positive thoughts about accomplishments as well, such as “I do a good job on math facts homework” or “I did a really good job on the ELA practice test.”

Think positive thoughts.

Science shows that thinking positive thoughts can actually help the brain function. Help your child practice this: When you start to feel stressed, take slow, deep breaths and think of something that makes you happy – petting your dog, playing a game with friends, hanging out at the beach in summer – for 10-20 seconds. Remind children that they can use this same technique in the middle of the test if they feel stressed. Taking 20 seconds to relax can help regain focus. (See Psychology Today: Happy Brain, Happy Life.)

Turn the “what-ifs” around.

It’s another twist on thinking positive thoughts. Instead of worrying “what if I don’t know the answers to the questions” or “what if I feel stressed all through the test,” encourage your child to rephrase their thoughts in a positive way. “What if I know more than I think I will” or “what if I am calmer than I expect?”

Do the best you can.

That’s all that is expected of students – to do the best they can on a test. Let your child know there may be questions they don’t know the answer to or don’t understand. Suggest they skip these questions and move on, coming back later when they can perhaps spend a little more time.

The bottom line is that taking the test can be stressful, invigorating or scary. But with the right approach, children can feel they are mentally and physically ready to handle the challenge.


  • Parent Today has prepared a handy fact sheet that includes these stress reducing strategies, along with an overview about the new Common Core Learning Standards. Download “Don’t Stress About the Test” by clicking here.
  • The New York State Education Department has created a useful website filled with information for parents about Common Core Learning Standards and testing called EngageNY.

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