families / Family Resource Center / Test Anxiety

Why Are Independent School Students 'At Risk?'

The first step to addressing students' mental health challenges is to recognize the primary risk factors that exist in their environments.

Supporting Your Students at Home

Emotional well-being and mental health are ongoing journeys for students from home to school and back again. Let's talk about what you can do at home to help support your students.

Managing Test-Related Anxiety

Testing can put a great deal of stress on students, creating or exacerbating anxiety and other mental health challenges. A few tried-and-true strategies can help.

mental health and test anxiety

Resources and tips to understand and overcome test-related anxiety.


Research by the Child Mind Institute found that half of all mental health challenges emerge before the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24, making the provision of mental health resources in schools critical. Additionally, students at high-achieving schools – including many independent schools – are considered 'at-risk' as a group for behavioral and mental health challenges, due primarily to heightened competitive environments.
As a result, independent schools around the world are taking proactive steps to address mental health needs for students and educators, including investing in training, resources, and resilience programs. Like most challenges, especially for young people, mental health issues can be difficult to navigate, but with the right supports and preparation most issues are manageable.

Why are independent school students 'at-risk?'

Among the many advantages of independent schools is that they establish and promote higher academic, behavioral, and community standards than other schools:
Independent schools also encourage or require students to be actively involved outside of the classroom, with stipulations around community service; athletics, arts, or other extracurriculars; and participation in school clubs and other activities.
Although these requirements propel students to achieve academic excellence and personal development, they can also contribute to student stress. As students feel more pressure to succeed across multiple domains and stand out from their peers, it can be common for them to experience feelings of isolation and anxiety.

What are independent schools doing about mental health?

Schools are investing in:
  • Awareness trainings, to help educators recognize behavioral and mental health challenge indicators and intervene appropriately
  • Making counseling easily available to students, including hiring more in-school psychologists and social workers
  • Building school and community cultures to prevent bullying and destigmatize mental health challenges
  • Other, school-specific initiatives, including getting parents more involved in school life and creating more open lines of communication between schools and families

Supporting your students at home.

Schools play an important role in helping students maintain their mental health, including providing counseling and other resources, recognizing warning signs and responding appropriately, as well as building inclusive, supportive cultures. But there’s a lot that parents and families can do at home to help their students thrive.
Glenn Milewski headshot
Glenn Milewski, Ph.D. | Chief Program Officer, ERB

Expert Tip

Just breathe. From monks to the military, generations of people have used breathing exercises to calm the mind, slow down the heart, and find balance. If you feel yourself getting stressed or overly anxious, simply take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Repeat 4-5 times, until you feel yourself calming down and returning to center.
One rule of thumb for taking timed tests and run into a hard question: Take a few moments to identify any context clues in the question or if you have answered any similar questions already. You might be able to help yourself. If you can’t figure it out, skip that question and move on.

With any extra time at the end, you can return to questions you skipped. Don’t linger too long on a question you’re wrestling with and risk missing questions you know the answers to.
If there are no penalties for wrong answers, you can always take your best guess!
The independent school admissions process often begins with an admissions exam. Download our ISEE Quick Facts brochure for additional information on our widely accepted assessment.

Managing Test-Related Anxiety

Causes of Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is distress, typically related to performance, experienced before, during, or even after testing situations. Test anxiety can be caused or multiplied by a number of factors.


Some people are more prone to stress than others, and that’s not their fault. There are hormones involved, including cortisol and adrenaline, that make our bodies react in specific ways to certain circumstances. This means it’s important to recognize if you’re a person who is prone to stress, so that you can take steps to overcome it.
Just because there’s biology involved doesn’t mean we can’t get better at managing stress and anxiety! The tips below can still be useful.

Fear of Failure

Like many performance-related tasks, test-taking can be a challenge because we want to do well. We don’t want to fail. Particularly for standardized tests, which can be important for academic outcomes like placement in certain courses and admission to desired schools. Worrying about the future, and failing, however, takes us out of the moment and distracts us when we really need to be focused and present.

History of Poor Test Performance

When we have struggled with test-taking in the past, it is natural to be anxious about taking tests in the future. These concerns can quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies where we don’t expect to do well, and it ends up that way.

Lack of Preparation

The most common reason many people feel anxious before taking a test, or other big performance-related task, is that they haven’t prepared enough. When we haven’t done the work leading up to a test or other event, we are much more likely to be anxious about taking the test itself and  the outcomes we’ll produce.

Dealing with Test Anxiety

There are lots of ways to manage and overcome test anxiety that require varying degrees of commitment and effort. The most important thing you can do is to know yourself, and recognize the supports you need as well as the steps you need to take to be successful.

Control What you Can

By studying and preparing for the exam, you will put yourself in the best position to succeed. Use flashcards. Look up helpful tips online. Talk to friends who have already taken the test about what to expect. Take practice tests.
 When you’re prepared and confident, you’re much less likely to experience test anxiety!
Get Rest & Eat Clean
Over the days leading up to a big test, make sure you try to sleep well and take care of your body. Eat healthy foods and exercise. Our brains and our bodies are closely connected, and how you treat your body leading up to an exam can have a big impact on your ability to overcome stress and how you feel while taking the exam.
Know Where to Go
Scout the location of the exam before the day of the test. Make sure you know where the location entrance is, and, if you can get inside, where the testing room is. If you’re driving, know where to park. By minimizing the number of factors you have to think about on test day, you’ll be able to manage any stress and focus on doing well.
Arrive Early
On test day, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the test location. That way, if you run into any traffic or need to stop for any reason, you have plenty of buffer time built-in.
If you’re early to the test, you can review flashcards, meditate, or simply relax until it’s time to begin.


From monks to the military, generations of people have used breathing exercises to calm the mind, slow down the heart, and find balance. If you feel yourself getting stressed or overly anxious, simply take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Repeat 4-5 times, until you feel yourself calming down and returning to center. Then continue testing.

Just Keep Going

If you don’t know the answer to a question, or even three questions in a row. Just keep going. You can only do the best you can—worrying isn’t going to help you!
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