It’s no secret that the numbers of standardized tests students must take have increased over the years. Test scores are used to rank students, schools, and entire districts. Kids soon learn the importance of the tests and the ramifications if they score low. And the stress of such tests can negatively impact students.
Younger students may cry, act out, or get sick during the testing period. Older kids may refuse to participate, deliberately score low or simply not show up to school on test day. Overall the anxiety caused by tests can result in disturbed sleep, headaches, upset stomach, worry, and the inability to concentrate.
Prepare your students
The very nature of standardized tests can be off putting to students. “They [tests] are rigidly timed, the instructions are complicated, and the rules are inflexible. For most students and teachers, this differs greatly from day-to-day classroom life,” writes Donna Clovis for Scholastic.com.
Often an informal classroom setting may need to be rearranged prior to the test, says Clovis. If your room needs a new layout for the test, do it one to two weeks ahead of time so the kids have time to adjust to it.
Be sure to thoroughly explain the testing protocol to the students so they know what to expect. If necessary, try giving a few timed tests during the month prior to the test so the time constraint won’t be as threatening to them.
You can help ease students’ anxiety by empathizing them. “Share your concerns… letting students know that ‘you are not alone in your thinking and feelings,’” advises Dr. Lori Desautels, writing for Edutopia.com. “For example, you might say, ‘I know how nervous you must have felt before the first part of the test yesterday, as I remember taking my college entrance test, and my hands were so sweaty I could hardly grip the pencil.’”
Finally, encourage your students to write about their fears, and then throw away the paper. According to a University of Chicago study, students can improve their test performance and reduce their anxiety by writing about their concerns right before the test.
Involve the parents
Your students’ parents can be the best allies in helping to reduce the stress of these tests. Make sure parents know the testing dates, and encourage them to make sure the students are well rested during testing week.
Encourage parents to provide their kids a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast on test days – and frankly, all other days as well. “A good breakfast the morning of the test is a terrific brain booster. Nutrients help to stimulate the brain,” advises Time4Learning.com. Also remind parents to send along any needed supplies, such as sharpened No. 2 pencils and a bottle of water.
Parents can also help with the mindset. Encourage them to discuss the tests with their child and to gently reassure the student that it’s OK to not know all of the answers. Parents can put things into perspective for their child by letting them know that the tests are just a snapshot of that brief moment in time – and probably will have little impact directly on them.