It is getting to be that time of year, again! Nope, not Christmas! Not summer, either! Wait a minute…I just realized that I could not say it is almost testing time because the reality is that we are testing the majority of the time in one form or another. Testing has become a staple of our education system. The information we can learn from testing can be invaluable. If your students experience test anxiety though, their results may not be a true measure of their ability and knowledge. We all know students that participate in class and exhibit higher-order thinking about subjects, but when they begin their tests, the panic clearly shows on their faces and they freeze up. In some cases, you will have extreme behavior due to the test anxiety. On my very first time administering a state examination, one of my students became so anxious that she vomited and fainted. Emergency personnel had to be called. Due to this one experience, I definitely believe in the seriousness of test anxiety.
It is not enough to recognize test anxiety though. We’ve got to do something about it. I believe the best way to help students with their anxiety is to practice test-taking strategies on a regular basis. We are all generally aware of test-taking strategies we can initiate at home: staying hydrated, getting a good night’s sleep, and having a good meal prior to testing. In the classroom, though, we want to focus on making students so familiar with testing that when an official examination occurs, they revert back to the strategies used in the classroom. Here are some strategies I implore:
- I use any opportunity to have students look back in the text for any context clues that can help them answer a question. Many times, we underline or number the clues.
- Whenever we have multiple choice assignments, I always read through the question and ask for the students to eliminate two choices and explain their reasoning. You would be amazed at students that can pick out the correct answer, but struggle with identifying why the other answers wouldn’t work. It also keeps students from completely marking random answers. I tell my students that if they eliminate two answers, they have a 50/50 chance of choosing the right answer if they have to guess.
- I don’t always have an answer key ready. Instead, I will attempt to work through the problems and I do make mistakes. I explain to the students that we all make mistakes and that’s okay. Of course, they love to correct me.
- For any constructed response, I always have the students restate the question, regardless of their academic ability. I believe this helps them to focus on exactly what they are answering.
- Allow students to chew gum or have a fidget tool available if needed. I allow this as long as whatever it is doesn’t make noise. I have several students that hold stress balls to test. For myself, I have to chew gum. I also hate to have a silent room, so when I have classroom tests, I have instrumental music that plays (Check out the Vitamin String Quartet station on Pandora!)
The most important part of test-taking is pep talks. If you decide before taking the test, you’re not going to do well, you may very well fulfill your prophecy. If you have a positive attitude and continue to try, the outcome will likely be favorable. I definitely preach this to my students. What are some test-taking strategies that you would recommend for the classroom?