sealPurdue News

May 1999

Support from mom and dad lessens test anxiety

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Parents can quell test anxiety in their school-aged children by recognizing the problem and reinforcing realistic expectations.

"Anxious behavior about test-taking is different in every student, but parents can help by balancing the importance of preparation against the reality that a particular exam is not the only measure by which a grade is earned," says Scott Vrana, associate professor of psychological sciences and director of the Purdue University Anxiety Clinic.

Vrana says that anxiety is a natural part of life.

"A student who doesn't experience some level of anxiety about a test has no motivation to do well," he says. "Anxiety only becomes a problem when it interferes with performance -- either by hindering the ability to prepare or by preventing the student from focusing in the testing situation."

There are three components of test anxiety: The behavioral component will manifest itself in avoidance of the task or poor preparation for it, while the physiological response can range from sweaty palms to an increased heart rate, or even difficulty in breathing. The cognitive component results from being so worried about the outcome that the child can't concentrate on the test itself.

Vrana says parents should offer reassurance and counter any irrational worries with rational thoughts based on other school tasks the child does well. And he warns that this can become more challenging as a child grows older and learns to worry in more elaborate ways.

"But if the anxiety is based on repeated failures, then it's time to look at preparation and ask if it's adequate," Vrana says. "As students get older they become more responsible for their own time, and poor preparation is often a factor. At the college level, it's not uncommon to have students fail exams for the first time in their lives because no one is reminding them to study."

The Purdue Anxiety Clinic specializes in the treatment of a variety of anxiety disorders. Clinic therapists, who are advanced graduate students working toward Ph.D.s in clinical psychology, will see an average of four students a year for test anxiety. But Vrana says the low number does not accurately reflect the problem.

"Like most universities, Purdue has a variety of resources for students who are struggling with academic performance issues," he says. "Many times a stress management or life skills seminar will be all that's necessary to overcome test anxiety. But even if they do end up visiting the clinic, it's fairly simple to treat in terms of the coping skills we teach. We've been highly successful in helping students deal with the problem."

CONTACT: Vrana, (765) 494-0782;

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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