I am a middle-school counselor. I use Daughters as a resource in my work. Do you have information about how parents can help their daughters with overcoming test anxiety?
M.P., Guilderland, NY
Test anxiety is a real problem for students, especially for girls. There are a number of ways to reduce test anxiety that work well for students, including studying over an extended period of time rather than cramming for tests the night before, and getting a good night’s sleep (see Resources, below). Two factors can cause greater anxiety among girls: First, girls are more likely than boys to blame their failures on a lack of ability. They often believe that they’ve done poorly because they’re “not smart” or not talented in a particular subject area. Boys, in contrast, are likely to blame failures on more malleable causes, such as a lack of effort. This self-confident approach may protect boys from experiencing as much worrying as girls do when faced with academic challenges. Parents can help girls by providing feedback that focuses on a lack of effort (“You need to spend more time studying spelling”) rather than ability (“Your spelling isn’t very good”).
Second, girls are more likely than boys to believe that they will disappoint parents and teachers if they don’t do well, as Columbia University psychology professor Carol Dweck notes in her accessible book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development . Parents need to reassure girls that their affection for them is not dependent on their performance in school. Doing so will help girls focus on working hard and learning rather than worrying about receiving a particular grade.
This response is based on work by Dr. Ellen Altermatt, professor of psychology at Hanover College. Her research centers on understanding how students’ interactions with parents, teachers, and peers shape their school adjustment.
Resources for reducing test anxiety: