During this time of year, students across the country feel anxiety levels begin to creep up due to the onslaught of high stakes testing. Some take it all in stride, while others reach panic mode before the first bubble is even filled in. Whether they are taking the SAT, ACT, State Proficiency Test, Common Core Assessment, Advanced Placement Test, finals, or any other high stakes test, the pressure on students can be very real. For some, test results will go a long way toward high school graduation or college acceptance. So how do we help them deal with the anxiety associated with these tests? I'm sharing some ideas below, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section following this post.
1. Validate their feelings. Especially in the case of high school exit exams and college entrance tests, test scores have become really important to the lives of some teenagers. Others face extreme pressure to excel from home or competitive peers. Instead of ignoring their anxiety or brushing it off as silly, we can do our best to understand and commiserate. Sometimes all students need is someone to listen to their frustrations and then develop a solid plan for moving forward.
2. Keep it in perspective. As adults and professionals we have seen the tests come, go, and change over the years. We know that students have so much more to offer this world than a simple exam score. We can consciously discuss with our students the idea that the score does not define them and in many meaningful ways doesn't have long term implications on their lives. There are almost always options for students struggling with high school standards, and almost all colleges weigh grades, co-curriucular activities, and other considerations more heavily than test scores alone.
3. Practice. Whether you start the class with a practice warm-up question daily, do a full "dress rehearsal", or find other ways to familiarize students with test directions and questions, students will benefit from demystifying the test with some solid practice.
4. Build them up. We can (and probably should) spend three quarters of the year giving students critical feedback on their skills, including those which will be tested. We do them no favors by sugar-coating their areas of improvement. However, there comes a time when we need to switch modes and become their cheerleader. We want them to go into the test with confidence. For me, this is usually a couple of weeks before the test. I like to show this Amy Cuddy TED talk and practice power posing a little:
5. Make sure they have the personal bases covered. Knowing your students and the context in which you teach, you probably have a good idea if someone is going to struggle with having the pencils/pens, nutritious food, a good night sleep, emotional support, a ride to the test, and other basic needs. When we can do something to privately and considerately reach out to these students, we can help relieve the survival pressures that pile on top of regular test stress.
What would you add to this list? How do you keep your students calm in testing season?