Spring. The sun shines, birds sing, butterflies flutter, woodland creatures do whatever woodland creatures do, and students diligently fill in ovals on their answer sheet while making sure they leave no stray marks.
Testing is upon us. It approaches quicker every year it seems. Anticipation is in the air. Although in the dramatic minds of students, anticipation probably feels more like dread. Whether it is an elementary-aged student or a high schooler, the feelings are similar: worry, doubt, boredom, and confusion about when they get to eat lunch.
No matter how you feel about standardized testing, chances are that there will always be some form of it. Asking both teachers and students to embrace testing may seem like a stretch; an unreasonable request akin to teaching summer school in a ventless classroom. We can debate the merits and reasons surrounding the issue of testing another time. For now, let’s look at some ways to make testing less like a trip to the dentist, and more like a trip to the sugar-filled lollipop jar you get to visit after your teeth are clean.
I recently asked students why they hated testing. Their answers varied but clearly occupied two clear camps. Students either feel like they will fail, or they simply dislike the tedious nature of sitting quietly in a room for hours filling ovals neatly with a no.2 pencil. I worked with those same students to come up with a plan for them to feel better about testing. These are some of the solutions we worked out.
Student-Approved Strategies for Helping Them Cope with Testing
Set aside time to reflect.
Now is the time to remind them that they are not helpless and incapable. Many of your lessons probably tricked them into learning. You know what I mean, the lessons where the kids are laughing and engaging with each other and not thinking about what they’re learning.
Acknowledge their stress.
Hearing that you shouldn’t be worried or are overreacting are sure ways to make someone worry and overreact. It adds an extra layer of stress on top of whatever they are already feeling. Not only does it not alleviate the stress, now they have to think about why they shouldn’t feel stressed. Hardly a relaxing state of mind.
You may know that a standardized test is not the be-all end-all moment of an educational career. You may know that the world doesn’t end if you fail. Truth is, they probably do as well. Yet, taking the time to explain that you understand how they feel sends a positive message. They (hopefully) see you as an expert. By listening to and responding to their fears, you can minimize them. Plus you can remind them that it could be worse. They could spend a few hours watching students take tests.
Don’t add to the pressure by telling them how important it is.
They know. Rumors swirl around about how failing a test can keep them out of college. We want them to do well, but test anxiety is a real issue. Unfortunately, the students that feel the least secure are the ones that teachers usually worry about. Thus, they are the ones who feel hopeless, lose motivation, and are then told how terrible it will be if they fail. Instead…
Celebrate what they know.
You did your job. Something seeped in between whatever online “math” game is currently popular and Minecraft map knowledge. Make sure they know how proud you are of what they learned. How proud you are of the work they have put in. Even if you think they could’ve learned more and could’ve worked harder. Give them that little last minute pep talk. That’s what they want to hear. You can bite your fingernails in the teachers’ lounge while you await the results, but as far as they know, you never had any doubt. Let them live up to your expectations, not slide down to them.
Remind them it is just a day.
The sun will rise tomorrow. Life goes on. They’ll move on. Just don’t tell them how many more tests they’ll have to take next year!