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As students across Tennessee prepare to take the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAPs, parents may be looking for ways to reduce their children’s anxiety and help them to do their best.

Steve McCallum, professor and head of the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling, said parents should try to instill successful test-taking habits in the days leading up to their children taking the assessments.

“The best way to reduce excessive anxiety for any task is to be prepared for it,” he said.

Put the date on the family calendar—Talk to kids about TCAPs and other end-of-the-year exams.

“The focus should be on working hard, not on making the perfect score,” he said. “It’s important for parents to help their children put the exams in perspective.”

McCallum noted that some students might be nervous about the tests and parents have to allay their concerns by encouraging them to “do your best but don’t worry too much.”

For other students who might not take the tests seriously, parents should talk to them about the importance of the exams.

“For some kids, it’s lowering anxiety and for others, it’s raising motivation,” he said.

Practice at home—The state of Tennessee offers sample assessment tests on its website. Parents can practice them at home with their children. For the sample tests, visit the state’s Department of Education website.

“I don’t know if parents are aware of these resources available online,” he said.

If parents want to go this route, McCallum recommends they connect with their children’s teacher so they’re complementing, not duplicating what is being done in the classroom.

“It doesn’t hurt for parents to echo these things at home,” McCallum said.

Encourage good sleep habits—Professionals recommend children should get eight to ten hours of sleep for several nights leading up to the exams, not just the night before the test.

“Have a routine that is already established so kids go to bed at a certain time,” McCallum said. “The preparation for the test is the same preparation you would do every day.”

Provide a good breakfast—Children should get a healthy breakfast every morning, one that includes protein, is not too heavy, and doesn’t have too much sugar. That way, what they eat on the day of the exam is already part of their routine and doesn’t feel different than other mornings.

Get them to school on time—On the morning of the test, “it’s important that you don’t make kids late,” McCallum said. “They don’t need the added anxiety.”

Share test day tips—As students sit down for the exams, if they still feel nervous, McCallum suggests they take a few deep breaths. They can also clench their fists as hard as they can and then relax it up to five times. This simulates using a stress ball.

Once they exam begins, students should pace themselves. He recommends they first look over the entire section or test to see how many items are on it. They should answer the ones they know. If there is no penalty for guessing, students should go back to the questions they don’t know and eliminate the wrong answers, and guess between the remaining choices.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,