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 stomachaches, 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 help with focus and motivation during study sessions and exams, the high levels of stress, nervousness, and fear that accompany 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 that can help your child: 

  1. Build the study skills. Strong study skills will lay the foundation for improved test performance, self-confidence, and reduced test anxiety. Unfortunately, most children are never actually taught how to study. Many with ADHD will not pick up good study strategies on their own. They will need coaching on specific study skills that will enable them to be successful.  
  2. Teach your child relaxation exercises. Your child will benefit from learning at least one relaxation exercise that they 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. There are many different relaxation techniques to try, such as sitting a quiet and comfortable place and breathing slowly and evenly. Research relaxation techniques online to find the best one for your child. 
  3. Take the pressure off. Test scores are a measure of your child’s knowledge and understanding of subject matter, but your child needs to understand that their effort matters most. Help your child learn that their self-worth and self-esteem are not based on test scores. Point out all the things in your child’s life that will continue to go well regardless of how they perform on their next exam. Share all of the things that you love about your child that have nothing to do at all with their 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 through an IEP or 504 plan, such as the ability to take tests in a quiet space and/or with extended time. Once your child has learned new study skills and has a better handle on their test anxiety, they may no longer need these accommodations and can return to taking tests in the regular classroom. 
  5. Work with the school counselor. School counselors might be a good resource to help your child overcome test anxiety. They can help your child learn strategies to tackle negative self-talk, fear of failure, procrastination, and might be able to suggest relaxation techniques. They can also help your child learn to advocate for themselves and ask for extra help from teachers when needed.  

Test anxiety is a very real problem for many children with and without 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 or with their pediatrician. With the right skills and strategies your child’s anxiety will decrease and their 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

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