Conquering 11+ Test Stress

For many kids, the 11+ exams will be the first formal exam they ever have to sit and, faced with the prospect of their entire future resting on the outcome of a single test, they can be left feeling anxious and stressed. The way this anxiety presents itself varies—it can be emotional, physical or psychological. It's completely normal to have an uneasy feeling when going into an exam/test. Just about everyone does. And a little nervous anticipation can actually help your child do better on a test. But for some people, the anxiety is more intense. This type of anxiety you feel when you are about to take a test is known as test anxiety or referred to as performance anxiety because it's triggered when you are required to do well and perform. It can interfere with concentration and performance. When your child is under stress, their body releases the hormone adrenaline, which prepares them for danger. When you are stressed and adrenaline is released there are some physical symptoms that can occur. These symptoms can range from a pounding heart, rapid breathing and sweating. These symptoms could be rather intense or quite mild depending on how extreme your anxiety gets. When you are feeling like this, often you are flooded with negative thoughts which can be extremely overwhelming. This usually results in the anxiety you are feeling to become a lot stronger. This makes the person feel worse and, with a head full of distracting thoughts and I myself suffer from test anxiety. Growing up my greatest fear in life was a test or exam. I’d struggle to revise because of how nervous tests made me. When test day had finally arrived, I’d have stomach pains and would often burst into tears. I’d be so nervous that I’d end up forgetting all the information I had spent days and nights revising. My solution came through talking through my anxieties with my parents and drawing up an action plan with my tutor. This plan helped me through high school and college.

Below are some tips on how you can support your child as they prepare for their 11+ exams:

1. Ask your child what’s making them feel anxious.

Talk with your child about their concerns and try to find out what their specific worries are. They may have to do with the particular subject or the format of the test, for instance.

When you know what is making you so nervous you can put some things in place to help overcome this feeling. Talking about it usually helps as it either helps to calm you down or keep you calm. This helps to not let the anxiety take over and control you.

2. Reduce anxiety through practice tests.

Reach out to tutors and or teachers asking them for some practice tests and try to encourage them to take them. If this isn't possible then try to look back at previous papers or quizzes and go over the formats together. Also when your child does these practice tests they learn how to manage their time during the actual test because when they get anxious they tend to rush through the paper. When you are going through the test questions or tests with your child, ask your child what they find confusing about the format and see what you can do to try and make it clearer for them.

Help them keep track of how long it takes to get through the test, leaving enough time to think about and answer each question and review the answers.

3. Avoid sudden panic by creating a schedule.

It's already extremely stressful to be writing a test but it can add even more stress when you find out the test is the next day! To avoid adding even more unnecessary stress, knowing when each test or quiz is scheduled, you can help your child get ready in an organised way.

4. Guide them to prepare for tests calmly over time.

When your child is preparing for their test, try to avoid 'cramming' as it is sure to elevate your child's anxiety. Instead, prepare for each test by adding test prep time into their daily study time.

5. Help them feel confident that their study notes are accurate.

If your child struggles with note-taking skills, they may worry about whether their class notes are correct. Suggest ideas to help them feel confident about materials they use to study for tests. There are a few ways to help with this, they can find someone who they would work well with and make them their study buddy. They can then learn together and compare study notes. Another option is for them to find and work with a tutor, tutors are highly experienced and will know the ins and outs of note taking, preparation and how to optimise test results. You could also reach out to the class teacher and ask if they are willing to provide any extra notes from the lessons or to have a look at your child's notes and review them to see how accurate and reliable they are.

6. Acknowledge their feelings and efforts.

When the test approaches don't overlook how your child may be feeling, try to listen and acknowledge it. Really focus on them and try to reassure them where and when you can.

Also, don't forget to give your child praise when they make an extra effort to study. For example, “I know you’d rather be out with your friends, but I'm so proud that you are staying at home to revise this topic."

Don't forget to reassure them that even if they don't get the grade they are hoping for, you are still proud of them, they did a good job preparing.

7. Tell your child that setbacks happen—and it’s OK.

When your child studies hard for a test and doesn't get the results you had hoped for it can feel quite frustrating. Instead of being disappointed and angry have a look at what has gone wrong and consider what can be done differently that could improve things for the next test. Sit down together and come up with a plan together.

8. Teach them to be mindful.

There are loads of great mindfulness apps for kids like DreamyKid, and Positivepenguins which help kids catch negative thinking and challenge it to be more optimistic, resilient and mindful.

9. Build healthy habits.

Having a good, healthy diet and drinking enough water will help give you the energy to prepare and retain information. You could also add exercise into their routine as it gives them some time away from their studies but it also helps to reduce their stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. When you exercise it also releases endorphins which are chemicals in your brain to help elevate your mood and it's also a natural painkiller!

Good luck and do keep in touch to let us know what tips and techniques you have used to support your kids' preparation.

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