So many times I've seen that frozen look, that pencil hovering over the paper and that tense glare like the exam question is some kind of three-headed monster. Despite levels of ability, student anxiety when it comes to test time lurks among many of our kids. Black outs, mind fog, low concentration, panic . . . probably affects at least one of your very own students.
Standardized tests, those two words tend to send a strike of fear, stress and anxiety to both student and teacher for different reasons. Unfortunately, whether we agree with them or not, like them or not, we all still have to deal with them every year as a part of our assessment.
Student test anxiety often plays a significant role in how well some students perform on these tests. Too many times I've seen students receive poor results, even though I know from our classroom activities they could have done better. I believe that many low test scores are largely due to stress and anxiety rather than just a lack of knowledge and ability. One of my incredibly bright students a few years ago reported to me that she would just 'black out' when it comes to facing the test paper. She had the courage to tell me this, but how many other students go on feeling like this without saying a word. I think more of our kids can pass that score line if they could be somewhat calmer and less nervous during testing time.
I believe the following 7 tips will help towards creating a calmer classroom climate during test time. The tips may not clear stress levels at a 100% success rate, but the more of these you do the more calm your kids will be.
Calmer kids = a better chance performing at their best on the test!
It's no secret that exercise helps get the mind focused and releases those beautiful feel good hormones we all desperately need when life feels a little tough. Because of this, getting some exercise as a class around test time will certainly help keep those stress levels down. Do a class workout (I usually pick two students to be the personal trainers for the session), play a sport, do some yoga, or follow a dance video on YouTube to get moving and relaxation levels improving!
2. Meditate & breathe
Carry out some meditation exercises with your students before the test. There are plenty of meditation audio videos available on YouTube. Plus, you can use meditation to help teach students breathing techniques to help calm nerves.
3. Teach positive self-talk
You could do this in conjunction with meditation by inviting students to close their eyes and imagine feeling calm and confident when taking the test. Here's a quick example - 'Some questions may seem like large monsters to begin with, but with a few deep breaths you read the question again and find it starts to shrink . . . you read it again to find it is starting to make sense . . . you read yet another time to find that it's just a cute bunny, you may need to take a look one more time and then finally you'll know what to do.'
4. Play games and do fun activities for review
Making test review time fun will help keep the stress levels down. You could easily do this by incorporating games into your review lessons or you may like to try a math mystery, project or quest to keep them working hard whilst also keeping it exciting and fun.
CLICK HERE to find a large range of Math Mysteries, Projects and Quests.
5. Have healthy easy snacks available for your students
Explain to your students what the snacks are for and set some guidelines to keep it all in check. Point out that you have chosen these snacks to help keep minds fresh and energized to deal with testing. It is for help and not a party.
Some good food examples include: air-popped popcorn, apple slices, plain crackers, orange wedges and bread sticks. (Keep it high carbohydrate but low salt and fat. I recommend nothing too exciting so that it doesn't distract the students and will be seen as a source of nourishment rather than fun.)
6. Make sure students are comfortable
Check to see if all students have adequate seating and desk space to take their desk. Ensure lighting is appropriate in all areas of the room. Keep windows open, make sure the lights work well in the classroom.
Freezing or sweating during the test is a massive distraction and will reduce concentration. So, make sure the temperature is just right for everyone.
7. Encourage & Reassure
Before a test, I like to:
- Remind my students that I believe in them,
- Tell them that the best they can do is to try their best,
- Assure them that while these tests are important, they are not life threatening or the end of it all.
I also like to tell students not to discuss the test afterwards. Students talking about questions and sharing answers has a tendency to cause more unnecessary doubt and stress than ever! If possible, follow up a test with a fun activity or game to help students move forward from the test.
I hope these tips help ease the stress faced during testing time. I wish you all the best of luck and calmness!