Tips for Tackling Test Anxiety

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Every time a test comes around the same symptoms start to crop up. Your child complains of headaches or stomach aches, has trouble sleeping, cries or becomes irritable, and may even beg to stay home from school. Older kids and teens may tell you that they're worried about a test, say that they're going to fail, or fear that they'll panic and their minds will go blank when the exam is in front of them. Test anxiety is a very real problem that affects 25-40% of students, and occurs more often in kids and teens with ADHD. While a mild amount of anxiety can actually help with focus during study sessions and exams, the high levels of stress, nervousness, and fear that accompanies test anxiety will actually have the opposite effect.

Research shows that test anxiety is generally caused by factors related to fear of failure, unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, being underprepared for the exam, and a history of poor test performance. For kids with ADHD, additional factors like low self-esteem, poor study habits, organizational difficulties, problems with chronic procrastination, and difficulty staying focused during class and during exams also contribute to test anxiety. Because of these additional factors, kids and teens with ADHD will need extra support from parents, teachers, and school counselors to overcome their test anxiety. Here are a few tips to help your child or teen get started:

  1. Study Skills. Strong study skills will lay the foundation for improved test performance, self-confidence, and reduced test anxiety. Unfortunately most kids are never actually taught how to study! Most kids without ADHD will not pick up good study strategies on their own. Instead they will need coaching on specific study skills that will enable them to be successful. Enroll your child in a study skills program at his or her school or in an afterschool program at a local learning center. You can also check out some home-based study skills programs. Personally, I like SOAR Study Skills by Susan Kruger.
  2. Relaxation Exercises. Your child will benefit from learning at least one relaxation exercise that he or she can use before and during tests to reduce anxiety. The relaxation techniques should be simple things that your child can do without having to rely on a phone or tablet app. For younger kids, PBS provides some helpful instructions on calming breathing exercises ( For teens, AnxietyBC has a "How to Chill" webpage with a variety of relaxation exercises that can be used anytime and anywhere (
  3. Take the pressure off. Help your child or teen learn that his or her self-worth and self-esteem are not based on test scores. Point out all of the things in your child's life that will continue to go well regardless of how he or she performs on his or her next exam. Share all of the things that you love about your child that have nothing to do at all with his or her grades or test scores!
  4. Reduce distractions and request extended time on exams. Kids with ADHD may experience more test anxiety when they are in distracting classrooms or when they are taking timed tests. Consider requesting school accommodations that will allow your child to take tests in a quiet space and with extended time. Once your child has learned new study skills and has a better handle on his or her test anxiety, he or she may no longer need these accommodations and can return to taking tests in the regular classroom.
  5. Work with the school counselor. School counselors typically have a great deal of experience with helping kids overcome test anxiety. They can help your child learn strategies of tackling negative self-talk, fear of failure, procrastination, and can teach relaxation techniques. They can also help your child learn to advocate for himself or herself and learn to ask for extra help from teachers when needed.

Test anxiety is a very real problem for many kids and teens with ADHD, and it's not likely to get better on its own. Help your child master test anxiety by learning study skills, practicing relaxation exercises, and taking advantage of helpful resources at school. With the right skills and strategies your child's anxiety will go down and his or her test scores will go up in the process!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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