Helping Students with Test Anxiety

Written by Michael Creekmore

As an elementary schooler, I remember the feeling I felt whenever I had to take a test. Particularly, I remember the feelings I had before a math “timed test”: this test was a race to see who could correctly complete the most multiplication problems in a minute. It was rough! Even though I considered myself to be pretty good at math for a 3rd grader, just the idea of it being “TIMED” and a “TEST” really did something to my anxiety level. I remember the feeling of sweaty pits and butterflies dancing in my stomach, and I mean big ones. No matter how much I tried to shake it, the anxiety was real and had decided to park itself in my mind and body for the duration of the test. Looking back at that time in my life, I wish I had a teacher that understood and could help alleviate anxiety related to taking a test. That’s not a knock on teachers of my primary school years but it’s simply something students like myself would have appreciated then and now.

So what exactly is test anxiety?
Experts believe test anxiety is actually a type of performance anxiety — a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure is on to do well. When it comes to test taking strategies, I always felt like there were certain things that teachers could do to help minimize student stress related to taking a test. So today I’m going to mention a few techniques that teachers use or phrases they can say that quell some of the anxiety students feel whenever they hear the words “Clear your desk and get ready to take this test.”

As we enter the high stakes season of standardized testing, I want to take some time to share a few tips to help students cope with test anxiety:

  1. Encourage students to use positive self-talk as an alternative to negative thoughts related to test taking. For example, whenever you think “I’m about to fail” or “I can’t even remember anything right now,” replace those thoughts with, “I got this. I studied, I’m ready.”
  2. Teach students relaxation techniques. Students may be encouraged to listen to relaxation audio, classical and/or jazz music; there are many relaxing videos within the Rhithm Toolkit from the Rhithm App. If admissible, teachers may also consider allowing students to listen to pre-approved relaxation tapes with headphones during testing sessions.
  3. Collaborate with a counselor on the use of cognitive behavioral intervention. This may be explored through school counselor classroom lessons aimed at Test Anxiety. In the event of students presenting with significant and debilitating symptoms (heavy breathing, shortness of breath, crying spells, lightheadedness, sweating, and/or pervasive feelings of fear) please contact your school counselor for assistance. Attempts to minimize nerves and fear are rarely well received and may heighten a student’s response.
  4. Remind students that their worth is not reflected in their scores. A bad grade does not mean a bad student. The world will not end because they didn’t get the grace they wanted on a test. In the midst of the countless tests and increased expectations, do your best to acknowledge your students for their personalities and actions. Although some students may be under tremendous pressure, at home, to achieve high test scores… your classroom can be the Safe Space they need to be more than their test scores.

Hopefully one of the aforementioned tips will be of some assistance to you as you and your students embark on the 2022 standardized testing journey.

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