5 Tips to Help Students Beat Test Anxiety
“I studied so hard, but as soon as the exam started, my mind went blank.”
“I was so worried about today’s test that I could barely sleep last night.”
“I just want to get an A.”
Anyone who has been teaching for a while—or has been a student themselves—has probably seen or experienced test anxiety in the classroom. While some level of stress is natural before taking a test, educators want students to feel motivated to succeed rather than anxious or overwhelmed by the thought of failure. In your classroom, try these five tips before your next assessment to help your students beat their test anxiety and perform at their best.
1. Review the material
When an assessment covers a great deal of material, such as a unit test, it can be difficult for students to know how to study. Guide students to think critically and decide what information will most likely be on the test. Use questions like these to help students focus on the most important concepts:
“What were the three most important things we discussed in this unit?”
“If you only had 10 words to describe this material to a friend, what would you say?”
“If you were testing someone on this information, what would you expect them to know?”
2. Practice answering questions
In addition to reviewing the material, practice answering specific types of questions beforehand. Some students might struggle with structuring answers to essay questions even if they understand the material, while others might have difficulties with multiple-choice questions—especially if two possible answers sound equally true. Help students combat nerves by going over strategies for answering these kinds of questions.
If students need to fill in a bubble sheet for a high-stakes test such as a standardized assessment, give them a dry run before the big day. Provide students with practice bubble sheets to use when answering homework questions or engaging in another low-stakes activity.
To practice structuring a longer written response, ask students to write an essay or short answer for a sample question.
Hold a class discussion so students can share their strategies for answering true-or-false and multiple-choice questions. Do students second-guess themselves if they notice they’ve marked “A” for several questions in a row? How do students decide to answer if a true-or-false question could be partly true?
3. Explain the stakes
While we want to encourage students to do well on every assessment, they shouldn’t feel the same level of stress over a simple comprehension check as they would over a high-stakes exam. Help students combat excessive feelings of stress by talking them through the stakes of each type of assessment.
For high-stakes assessments, encourage classroom discussion about why these tests are important. How does this type of testing demonstrate their knowledge of the material? How will the test results be used?
For low-stakes quizzes and comprehension checks, explain why these tests are helpful. If students don’t know the answers to some of the questions, how will that help you plan future lessons?
4. Picture success
The power of positive thinking can help turn excessive stress into helpful motivation. Social scientists like Frank Niles, Ph.D, suggest visualizing success to stay motivated. “When we visualize our desired outcome, we begin to ‘see’ the possibility of achieving it,” Dr. Niles explained. Before passing out the test, ask students to close their eyes and imagine themselves doing well on it. Try these guided visualizations to help students relax:
“Picture yourself answering a question with confidence. It feels satisfying to know the answer!”
“Picture yourself making a good guess on a question. Now that you’ve chosen your answer, imagine breathing out any remaining doubt before going on to the next question. Every question is going to get your full attention!”
“Imagine yourself getting your test back and feeling proud of your work. How do you celebrate?”
5. Value progress
Before passing out the test, give students one more confidence boost. Ask students to name something they’ve learned from studying the material. Validating the progress they’ve made over time is one way to show students that you value their knowledge—and that they should, too. Use these sample questions to get students thinking about the progress they’ve made since the school year began.
“What is one thing you know about this subject now that you didn’t know before we started the unit?”
“Name two ways you can use what you learned in your everyday life.”
“Think of three things you do well as a reader and a writer.”
Eliminating test anxiety helps students stay focused and motivated to do their best work. Use these calming and confidence-boosting techniques the next time you’re preparing your students for a test, or experiment with a few techniques of your own.
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