The Medical Minute: A guide through standardized tests for you and your child

Sad tired frustrated boy sitting at the table with many books and holding help sign.

No. 2 pencils, a ticking clock and deep concerns about the future.

April 21, 2022Penn State Health News

In May, students across the state will take their mandated Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams, and for many the ritual tests more than their academic knowledge. The pressure triggers anxiety. A 2018 Texas A&M study revealed some students show elevated levels of cortisol – the hormone that triggers stress response – on days of standardized testing.

Not all stress is bad. In fact, some stress serves as an important ingredient in learning to manage adversity and shaping children into adults with the skills to cope with challenging situations, said Dr. Deepa Sekhar, executive director of Penn State PRO Wellness. Above all, “the key to a child learning to manage the stress is to know that they’re loved and have people they can go to,” she said.

Sekhar doesn’t advise a drastic change in plans during testing time. Instead, open the lines of communication. Let your child know doing well on the exams is important, but nobody expects perfection.

“Try to be calming,” she said. Make sure your child is getting plenty of rest, but don’t shuffle the bed times too much. Now might also not be the time for reminders on tough-to-break bad habits, like children not cleaning up after themselves.

Also, try leading by example. If you’re running out the door first thing in the morning to make it to work, your stress is in the air and can affect your child. Give yourself an extra 10 minutes in the morning, and make sure they get their breakfast too.

Talking with your child’s teachers can also help. If they’ve had a bad morning, let the instructor know – they might be a little frazzled today. If your child’s stress and anxiety seem far out of proportion to what you expect and are able to manage, reach out to your child’s primary care provider for additional guidance

The image below contains tips to help your child get through the PSSAs and other standardized tests. Click on the image for a version you can print.

A graphic showing healthy study habits

Related content:

  • The Medical Minute: Easing back-to-school anxieties in kids
  • The Medical Minute: Stepping up efforts to home in on teen depression

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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