Causes of Test Anxiety

Where does test anxiety come from?

The causes of test anxiety vary widely among children and the prevalence is high. Some estimates suggest that a quarter to a third of students suffer from test anxiety! That’s a lot of kids! Failure to reach academic goals or expectations

Test anxiety may come from the child’s lack of ability to perform. As children get older they are more able to compare themselves to others, and they come to realize that their school success is not entirely tied to how hard they try.

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Learning disabilities, ADHD and Depression

A child who has a learning disability may become anxious when tested because of their inability to do the work. Over time this could lead a pattern of anxiety which they try to escape by giving up. Similarly, a child who has adhd and difficulty concentrating may realize that they are unable to perform in a way that is expected.

Lack of Self Confidence.

A child who has low self confidence for whatever reason may falsely conclude that they are less skilled than their peers at study skills may observe that he has to try much harder and is never able to measure up, therefore they develop lack of self confidence that feed anxiety during test taking time.

Unrealistic expectations

One the causes of test anxiety can come from parental expectations. A parent who expects unrealistic things from their child academically may unwittingly create test anxiety in a child.

School Environment

Test anxiety can come from the environment of the school. I have children in the lower elementary grades who are extremely debilitated by the high stakes testing they are forced to undergo. I also work with teachers in therapy who are similarly affected by this environment. Just like children are affected negatively by television with violent and sexualized content they are affected negatively by this kind of environment.


Some children and adults are predisposed to be anxious, and the anxiety is triggered by testing situations. Test anxiety can occur because of worry about being evaluated or humiliated by peers and teachers similar to a social phobia, especially in older children.

Poor Study Skills

Another one of the causes of test anxiety is poor study skills. A child who studies but does not know how to do this well, can be impacted by their failure. They may develop a cycle where they continue to study ineffectively and become anxious during test taking because of previous failures, or they may give up entirely.


In our society, we continuously emphasize the importance of acquisition and competition. Our children absorb their values and belief systems not just through what we tell them but what we do and what they see on television.


The fact that a fourth or fifth grader, who should love learning and playing and have a curiosity about themselves and the world, would be plagued by this kind of disorder should be disturbing. Although it is important to create good study habits and do well academically, it should not be perceived by the child as so important that they become mentally ill.

Examine the message you give your child indirectly though the choices you make and your own behavior. I think it is much more important for children to acquire good stress management skills, coping skills, the ability to identify their feelings, a sense self esteem and a sense of self preservation. They should not be taught to choose grades or perfect test performance over their health. Too many of the adults I see have not been taught to care for themselves and later suffer the consequences and require therapy to function.

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