As a teacher, you know that end of year tests are responsible for some of the greatest stress for both students and yourself. No matter how much you’ve prepared students with new material and practice reviews, the testing itself can be the cause of tremendous anxiety.
In fact, according to a study by HeartMath (2007), 61% of high school students report feeling test anxiety. This anxiety is accompanied by real consequences as higher levels of test anxiety are correlated with poorer performance on the test. The good news is that you can help your students test better through the following stress reduction techniques that can be integrated into your normal classroom practice.
1. Find Opportunities for Physical Activity
Studies have shown that physical activity provides a wealth of health benefits, including reducing stress. While you may not be able to get your class out for a game of soccer or a nature hike, you can implement physical activities into your daily routines. This is especially beneficial the day of the test, when students may be at their peak stress levels. Try the following activities for fun and relaxation!
- Shake Break: While counting backwards from 8, shake your right hand, then left hand, then right foot, then left foot. Immediately start again with your right hand, but counting down from 4 this time. Repeat, counting 2 then 1. Not only is it energizing, but this exercise often results in fits of laughter as kids struggle to keep up with the counting.
- True or False test review: This is great for reviewing test material! When going over questions as a class, have students walk to the window side of the room when they think the answer is true, or the wall side if they think it is false. You can mix this up as much as you want- put multiple choice answers on the corners of a board and have students walk to the corresponding corner of the room, or pick different stretches to indicate true or false if you want them to stay at their desks.
- Gallery Walk: Instead of students discussing a topic at their desk, post materials for discussion on the walls and allow them to “tour the gallery” in small groups. Having them report on their discussions when they return also helps with memory and summarization skills. While it may seem risky to allow them to wander about, students usually appreciate the freedom and trust. Just make sure to set expectations beforehand!
2. Build Positive Thinking Habits
Most students are pretty familiar with standardized tests by the time they get into high school, after having taken an average of 8 standardized tests per year according to a study by The Council of Great City Schools. This means many of them already associate tests with negative feelings, or think of themselves as “bad at tests”.
Building positive thinking habits can help everyone, from these stressed students to your star studiers. Incorporating positive thinking into your classroom helps students anticipate success instead of failure, and reduces the anxiety of not being “good enough”.
- Success Memory: Have students write down a time when they experienced success. Encourage them to think beyond academics - it can be anything from competing in a sports league to finishing a video game or a long book. Ideally, this exercise should also include a moment when they reached success by overcoming an obstacle or shaking off self-doubt.
- Appreciation Activity: Positive thoughts don’t have to only be about themselves! Ideally you can set aside a few minutes a day for students to write down something/someone they appreciate and why. You can let them choose, or give them a subject, such as a person, place, or thing.
- Experts in their Field: While not all students may be academically inclined, each of them has a unique interest or passion. Have students write down their areas of expertise and share with their neighbors. It’s important to tie their expertise to valuable traits for testing success too, such as perseverance, growth, and self-discipline. You can tie their examples to classroom situations as they arise, so that when a student faces a challenge, it can be reframed as something they have encountered before.
3. Goal Setting
Whether it’s in school or out, goal setting is a powerful way to help people see themselves as successful, and helps align expectations with day-to-day activities. Students who set goals for themselves, while understanding the challenges they may face, can reduce their test taking stress. How should you do this in the classroom?
- Start with explaining the different kinds of goals your students can set for a test. Encourage them to think beyond a single score. Options include staying within the time limits, answering all the questions, or focusing on a specific subsection of the test.
- Have students list 1-3 challenges they face on the way to their goal. Have them brainstorm ways to overcome the challenges in the time they have left before the test.
- It’s a good idea to implement this goal setting across various projects to avoid it seeming like one test is the only measure that matters. Try setting aside time on a weekly basis for students to set goals or document progress towards existing ones!
We hope you and your students enjoy these activities! Stay tuned for more test stress-busting tips and strategies (including some for you adults!)
Have an idea that’s worked well for your class? Share it in the comments!