Online Professional Learning and
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March 10, 2023

High school age students taking a textDo you remember the standardized testing of your youth? It’s safe to say that most of us didn’t exactly look forward to it. The clock at the front of the bare room seemed to stare forebodingly as the minutes ticked by, the cold seats felt harder than the questions, and the mandatory silence was interrupted only by the nervous scribbling of your classmates. Who decided this environment might be conducive to good test scores?

You may not have much say about the testing environment your students experience today, but you can give them tools to mitigate test anxiety. As standardized testing season approaches, check in with your students to assess how comfortable they feel about test taking. If you hear responses like “Pass the anti-nausea medication, please” or “Frozen,” consider teaching some test-taking strategies. Having the tools to chip away the ice if they freeze up during exams can go a long way toward building students’ confidence — and improving their performance!

Buckle Up Their Tool Belts

To kick things off, consider holding a focus group discussion to gauge students’ feelings toward exams in general and how those feelings may affect their test-taking abilities. Here are some questions you might pose:

  • How do you feel about taking exams? Does the prospect of taking exams worry you?
  • Are there any physical symptoms of nervousness or anxiety that occur when you take an exam? Do your hands feel shaky? Do you ever experience shortness of breath?
  • Do you notice an inner dialogue when taking exams? If so, what does it sound like to you?
  • Do you have trouble concentrating when taking exams? Maybe you find it hard to focus on one question at a time, or perhaps it’s difficult to focus when reading a passage.

Wherever your students’ anxieties may stem from, it’s important to let them know they’re not alone! Reassure them that test anxiety is common, and even adults can have it.

Add One Tool at a Time

Once you’ve fostered an open dialogue, encourage students to bounce ideas off each other. Encourage them to choose the ones they think might work for them and add those tools to their Test Anxiety Tool Belt. Here are some tips you may want to share:

  • It can be discouraging to open a test booklet and get thrown off by the first question. Instead of spending all your time trying to figure it out, move on to the next one! Answering the “easy” questions first boosts your confidence and leaves you time to come back to the hard ones.
  • Have you tried the process of elimination? For each test question, there are almost always one or two answers that are obviously incorrect, so eliminate those first. This increases your odds of getting the right answer.
  • It’s always a good idea to break a question down so you can examine each part. This helps you make sure you truly understand what it’s asking. For example, if the instructions say to select the answer that does not belong, but you overlook the not, you’ll select the wrong answer — even if you know the right one! Underline important words and key terms to help you stay on the right track.

Every Tool Kit Needs Accessories

Having the aforementioned tips in their Text Anxiety Tool Belt can reduce nervousness and build confidence. There are plenty of other strategies that can act as “accessories.” If you caught our blog post on Creating a Mental Health Tool Kit, you may have shared some of the tips mentioned there with your students. If your students are already using these ideas as “homework hacks,” let them know they can also be modified and used in the testing environment. Let’s review some ideas to share with students!

  • Do you listen to music to either calm down or get hyped up during homework? You can’t exactly bring your headphones into the testing room, but perhaps you can get in the right mindset by listening to your favorite playlist that morning as you wake up and get ready.
  • Sometimes, stretching can bring relief if you tend to tense up during homework time. However, your yoga moves may be distracting if you try them in a room full of people on test day. Instead, try taking a restroom break so you can move around and stretch your limbs. Even if it’s brief, it gives you a chance to regroup and refocus.
  • If you find it hard to keep your eyes open during homework time after a long day at school, maybe you’ve found it helps to take a quick power nap before you begin. Since we don’t want you snoring at your desk on test day, make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before.

With some coaching, practice, and the right tools, your students will find they can mitigate stress on test day and beyond. So go ahead: Give them those power tools. Happy testing season!


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