“I don’t know the answers. This test is so long. If I fail, everyone will think I am stupid. Maybe I should just give up. Maybe I should just guess the whole time since I’m not going to get any right anyway. I heard that C’s are usually right? I wish I was smarter. I wish I could do better.”
Test Taking Anxiety in the classroom
Does this sound like something that may go through the minds of your students minutes before a test is given? Have you heard your students talking negatively on the day of a big exam? Many students worry about how this test will impact their grade, or how a standardized test may impact their life. So much emphasis is put on test results, that test anxiety has become rampant in every classroom. As teachers, we need to do our best to alleviate this stress. We need to make our students comfortable with the test-taking experience. In addition to the material that must be taught during the school year, students must also learn how to take the test. Instilling this knowledge year round will continually aid in our students’ education. To encourage teaching these skills, I thought I would offer a list of test-taking strategies that I use in my classroom.
1. MAKE SURE YOU ARE PHYSICALLY PREPARED FOR THE TEST
*HEALTHY BREAKFAST + RESTFUL SLEEP = GREAT POTENTIAL*
On the day of a test, you don’t want your students worrying about their stomach rumbling or drowsiness caused by lack of sleep. Encourage your students to get a good night’s sleep before a big test. Remind them that eating a healthy breakfast will help energize the mind and body on the day of the test. Foods like eggs, milk, yogurt, and fruit are excellent brain-boosting cuisine! If you have students from low-income families, have a snack available such as granola bars or fruit. Encourage your students to drink water! Staying hydrated helps your brain function at its best.
Your students should also try to avoid unnecessary stress on the day of the test. This means setting the alarm and laying out their clothes the night before. This means preparing in advance by studying well beforehand. Small and frequent studying over a long period of time is a more natural and much less stressful way to learn the material. Staying up all night to cram, or trying to cram moments before the big test will lead to fatigue and stress. If there does seem to be a lot of stress in the classroom on test day, I advise using calming techniques like deep breathing. Ideally, as teachers, we want our students to be well prepared, calm, rested, and fed on the day of a test so that they may perform to the best of their ability.
2. READ THE DIRECTIONS
In order to enforce the importance of this strategy, I often put together a worksheet that looks something like this:
After completing this activity, we have a classroom discussion on how directions play a significant role in how well we perform on tests. A missed direction (like missing #1) could really change the outcome of the test!
3. READ THROUGH THE QUESTIONS AND ALL ANSWERS
This strategy follows directly after the second strategy because of similar outcomes if the entire question is not read. Many students may skim through the question attempting to get through the test quickly. At first glance, they may get the wrong idea of what precisely the question is asking. Careful reading of the question and all of the choices will help to avoid a careless error. After reading through the question thoroughly, your students can then begin the process of elimination and ultimately decide on the correct answer. Encourage students to read through every answer before making their final decision, even if they think they already know the answer.
4. PACE YOURSELF
A good strategy for a longer test is to look at how many questions there are, and what types of questions are being asked. In doing this, students may get a good idea of how long they can spend on each question without running out of time. Students should use all the time they are given to complete the test. Tests are not a race. Students can take their time to read and reread questions and not worry about how fast their fellow students are moving. Taking all of the time allotted and focusing on the test in front of them is a major key to success. Once they have decided on their pacing strategy, if they see some easy questions, they should go ahead and answer them first. This will give them a quick boost of confidence to move forward in the exam!
5. DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WORK
Once your students have gone through the entire test the first time, they should go through the test again. During the first time through, students should flag any questions that they were unsure about. Then, the second time through, they should spend more time thinking about these answers. A question flagged at the beginning of the test may be answered by a question later on in the test. Therefore, that second time around, the student can fill in the right response! In addition to re-assessing the flagged questions, students should ensure that all questions are answered and nothing was left blank. A guess is better than nothing, and an educated guess is better than a random guess!
POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING
A good mindset is crucial when it comes to test-taking strategies. Thoughts like “I can do this” and visualizing themselves receiving a good score can help propel students towards success. If students find those negative thoughts crossing their minds, they can take a moment to readjust. They can take deep breaths and repeat a positive mantra in order to defeat those thoughts and let the brain know that they intend to do well. If the stress of the magnitude of the test begins to bother the students, they need to remind themselves that this one test is not what defines them. They should reassure themselves that they have prepared and are ready to complete the exam to the best of their ability. One tactic that I have told my students is to smile. It is scientifically proven that smiling (even a forced smile) can make them happier and more positive. A smile releases hormones that produce positive feelings. Before the test begins, tell your class to take a deep breath and smile, and that may induce the calm confidence they need to succeed. Days before a test, my students and I like to complete a Test Prep Collaborative Poster or a Growth Mindset Collaborative Poster to instill positive thoughts. We color and listen to calming music to let our minds run free.
Everyone must take tests at some point in their lives. The usual thoughts may impact the student. “I didn’t study enough.” “I am going to fail.” “My test anxiety will make my brain go blank.” However, if we teach students test-taking strategies throughout the school year, they are more likely to walk into the testing room with an air of confidence that will aid in their ability to succeed.
Test-taking anxiety is real! These strategies will help your students combat their anxiety and feel more confident while taking the exam!
Try the Test Taking Strategies Escape Room to review and instill these strategies and more in a fun, engaging manner.