Do you remember the anxious feeling before a test? You’re breaking into a cold sweat; your legs are shaking and heart beating? Even though you know you have studied hard? And after the test is over, you immediately start worrying about the grade, remember all the mistakes, and perhaps blame yourself for being dumb and incompetent.

First ever OECD PISA assessment of students’ well-being was just released, and results should interest all parents and educators. One of the outcomes was that 55% of students felt very anxious about a test even if they were well prepared. In the study, anxiety was not related to performance, so both poor and high performers worry about the schoolwork.

Mistakes and challenges are for growing

59% of students reported that they often worry that a test will be difficult. That is a serious statement and stems from the traditional way of seeing intelligence and expertise. If the student thinks that school success is related to their natural abilities, they believe that bad grades happen because of their lack of intelligence. They easily attribute a difficult test to their incompetence and an easy test to their talents. The fear of making mistakes can lead to passing on challenges and avoiding unfamiliar situations.

New and different things should provoke curiosity instead of anxiety.

We have to start celebrating mistakes and show our children that difficulty means improvement and challenges are for growing.

Humanity is so much more than good grades

Another alarming fact is that as much as 66% of students reported worrying about poor grades. If we always praise our children just for having a row of straight A’s, they will learn that their grades are the only thing that matters.

The truth is that succeeding in life is about so much more than just SAT’s or certificates. What about collaboration skills, creativity, leadership skills, or emotional intelligence?

Maybe we should learn to praise also for those, so children wouldn’t feel that their grades define them as human beings. Could we also think about putting less value on the outcome and more into the process? If the children don’t feel that trying is important even though you don’t always succeed, it’s easy to give up.

How can parents and educators help?

The OECD report points out that anxiety is often viewed as a natural consequence of testing overload.

In the PISA wellbeing study, anxiety was not related to the amount of schoolwork or frequency of tests, but rather to the support of teachers and schools.

Parents and teachers can help children to handle the anxiety by highlighting their strengths and encouraging them to trust in their capabilities. The report also reveals that teenagers, who feel part of a school community and get along with parents and teachers, are more likely to perform better academically and be happier with their lives. So, building a safe and uplifting school environment is essential if we want our students to flourish.

OECD Chief of Staff, Gabriela Ramos, gives great advice to parents and educators: “Together we can help young people develop a sense of control over their future along with the resilience they need to be successful in life. There are no secrets; you perform better if you feel valued and well-treated, and if you are given a chance to succeed!” We couldn’t agree more on that.

If you know your strengths and believe that you are a worthy human being, it is easier to cope with life and everything it throws your way.

Our responsibility as adults and educators is to make sure that every kid will know that they are valuable – just the way they are!