March 21, 2019
People who are nervous about medical appointments can have higher blood pressure readings at their doctor’s office than at home. It’s so common that there’s a name for it: white coat syndrome. Likewise, some students feel stress at school whenever they take a test, and it can affect their test results. If you Google “test anxiety,” you’ll find it’s a common experience.
That means even if students have studied hard and know the material, their anxiety might keep them from doing their best when test time rolls around. The good news is, there are things you can do to help students manage their anxiety.
A recent study reported in ScienceNews showed that using simple stress-reduction strategies can improve student performance, especially for low-income students. In the study, the failure rate among 1,175 low-income students taking biology at a large public high school was cut in half after teachers prompted students to use one of three strategies before each biology exam:
- Take a few minutes before the exam to write about your fears.
- Read an explanation of how stress responses like sweaty palms or a quickened pulse are nature’s way of helping you focus.
- Do a combination of the first two strategies.
All three strategies worked equally well, and each worked better than simply ignoring the anxiety. (In the study, that’s what the control group did, and their test results didn’t improve.) Researchers noted that higher-income students didn’t seem to benefit from the stress-reduction strategies, possibly because they were already using strategies to regulate their emotions.
As spring testing approaches, it’s a good time to talk with your students’ teachers about the testing schedule and possible ways to reduce test anxiety. Learning to regulate emotions is a skill students can use at school and in other settings. After all, life is full of tests!
Find additional ideas for reducing stress to improve student learning and performance in Raise Joy, Lower Stress, a post by Y4Y guest blogger Phillip A. Collazo.