Q&A: How Can I Help My Homeschooler with Test Anxiety?

Our state’s homeschool laws are pretty relaxed, but we do have to do a standardized test every three years. This was our first year, and my son had terrible text anxiety—he broke down in tears during the test and couldn’t finish it, and he was upset about it for days. Obviously I want this to go better next time. How can I help him with his text anxiety?

It’s hard to blame anyone for feeling nervous about a test—choosing the right answers from a list of possibilities with a timer ticking in the background is a classic stress scenario. But since most kids will run into a situation where their performance on a test matters—because of homeschool laws, college admissions, or something else—it makes sense to minimize anxiety as much as you can.

One of the best ways to do this is to make testing part of your routine. Even if you’re not required to test every year, having a week of testing on the schedule every year can help a test-anxious kid start to get used to the testing process. Consider starting very slowly, by giving your son one or two test-style questions a week and gradually increasing the number of questions over time. If it’s the timing that stresses him out, let him practice answering a question with a five-minute time limit and gradually reduce the time so that he’s answering questions more quickly. Testing is a learned skill, and like any skill, it takes practice and patience to develop.

Testing is a learned skill, and like any skill, it takes practice and patience to develop.

Kids with test anxiety also benefit from familiarity with the test style and format. Homeschoolers, especially, aren’t always accustomed to answering A, B, C, or D to questions that are sometimes deliberately tricky. Order a test booklet online (Seton Testing has affordable versions), and let him just flip through it, looking at the questions and getting comfortable with the idea of the test.

Tests don’t really measure intelligence, knowledge, or ability, and it’s important to help your child understand that. Explain to your son that a test is just a benchmark that shows what you know in a specific area—sometimes you know a lot, and sometimes you don’t know as much. The goal isn’t to get all the right answers but to give an accurate picture of what you know. If you race too quickly for the test or make wild guesses or don’t check your work, you reduce the accuracy of the test—so you do want to do your best, but you don’t need to worry too long over questions that you can’t answer.

Building familiarity is a slow process, but it’s the most effective way to ease anxiety about tests. Don’t fret, though, if your child never totally relaxes behind the number-two pencil. Testing can be anxiety-inducing for some people, and your son’s score on standardized tests may never be a perfect reflection of his knowledge. But with slow and steady practice, he can get comfortable enough to get through a test successfully—and his grades, essays, and other achievements will help give a well-rounded picture of his academic experience.


This Q&A is reprinted from the spring 2017 issue of HSL. We answer reader questions about homeschooling in every issue; you can email your questions to hello@homeschoollifemag.com.