Ask Dr. Mike: Child Anxiety and Schools Tests

Ask Dr. Mike: Child Anxiety and Schools Tests

Dr. Mike,

Our daughter did not get into the gifted program through the public school system because we were told that her test scores “disqualified” her.  My husband and I were shocked because she is an extremely intelligent child.  But we also know that she’s super sensitive and becomes anxious and will panic during big tests like this, especially when she tests with other children around her.  The school knows that about her and her teacher encouraged me to have her tested privately as part of the appeals process to get her in.  How do I prepare my anxious daughter for another round of testing?  They are recommending that she take the “WISC test.” I think it’s really unfair that one single test is the deciding factor for my daughter’s eligibility into the program when she’s shown herself to be an amazing student already with excellent grades.  She’s a lot smarter than a stupid computer generated number, but I guess this is just the way it is.  We want her to get in and she really wants to get in so can you give us some advice on private IQ testing? 

Gifted Testing Anxiety

Dear Gifted Testing Anxiety,

Spring is testing season for psychologists in private practice because this is the time of year when public school systems in Northern Virginia make their decisions for students entering their gifted programs.

Please know that your situation isn’t a unique one; testing anxiety for children, especially for sensitive children, is quite common.  And, while some children aren’t bothered by group testing in the least, others can become overly self-conscious and the pressure to perform can be too much.

Regarding IQ tests, I share your frustration.  While IQ scores are good predictors for academic success, the scores don’t take into account a number of other factors that contribute to a child’s learning and academic success.  Certainly, the WISC is designed to assess a broad range of problem-solving skills for a child, but it won’t assess a child’s motivation or drive, character, creativity, curiosity to learn, or social or emotional intelligence – all of which are important factors when it comes to intelligence and success in life.

The long and short of it is that there really is no way to prepare your daughter for the WISC, or for any IQ test for that matter, since the content of the test assesses aptitude (i.e. your daughter’s innate intelligence) and not achievement (i.e. what your daughter’s already learned.  Incidentally, this is actually a debatable point, and many have argued that there are indeed achievement oriented questions as well as possible cultural and racial biases on tests like the WISC.

But, while you can’t prepare your daughter for the actual test material, there are some things you can do to help her to do her best.

First your daughter should get a good night’s sleep, and she should have a healthy breakfast.

Second, anything you can do to take the pressure off of your daughter and to increase her motivation would likely be a good thing.  Perhaps instead of calling it a “test,” let her know that she’ll be spending some time with a professional who does learning activities with children.  You can even let your daughter know that the activities might involve playing with blocks or designs or answering fun problem-solving questions.

Third, I recommend that your daughter take the test in the morning when she is most alert and focused and not later in the day or after school when she might be less sharp.

Fourth, if your daughter is sick or is taking medication that is impacting her functioning negatively in any way, I would reschedule the test for after she is better.

Fifth, make sure the psychologist knows that your daughter is sensitive so that the psychologist and you can prep your daughter well upon arrival – letting your daughter know how long the activities will take, letting her know that she can take breaks as needed, letting her know that you will remain in the waiting room if she needs you, are just a few things the psychologist might talk to your daughter and you about before starting to make the process more comfortable for your daughter.

Lastly, if your daughter ends up not getting into her school’s gifted program, it’s not the end of the world.  Gifted programs aren’t for everyone, and I’ve even worked with children who’ve gotten into the programs but decided not to attend given the commitments.  Know too that there are a number of after-school academic enrichment opportunities for your daughter to participate in that might be a better fit for her.