Sunday, November 20, 2011

Taming Test Anxiety

We live in a world of high-stakes testing. Even third graders face assessments that will determine if they can progress to fourth grade.

Many people become overly anxious about the tests they take. Some become so paralyzed they struggle to remember how to spell their own name.

My bouts with this type of fear came from external sources. While on the way to take my first test for teacher certification, my minivan refused to shift out of second gear. Fears of an enormous bill and temporary loss of transportation boiled in my mind. After arriving at the test site, I put my head down on the steering wheel and repeated my new mantra, "Don't think about the car, think about the test!"

During the second test, I needed to use the restroom. Only one person was allowed in the restroom at a time, even though people in different rooms were taking assessments for very different subjects. I was rather shocked when the hall monitor followed me into the restroom. I decided to take action, turning around and asking, "Do you want me to leave the stall door open?" This prompted the monitor to leave the room, giving me much-needed privacy.

My problems with the last critical assessment didn't start until I actually arrived in the testing room. I found I was seated in front of the pencil sharpener. The room was packed, so there was no way to request a new seat. Noises are very distracting to me, so I began to panic. I decided whenever someone was sharpening their pencil, I would take a break and stare at my shoes.

What can you do if you or your child suffers from test anxiety?

·         Teach study skills, including using study guides, reviewing with a friend, and practicing with games.

·         Follow a study schedule with specific goals, materials ready, and by creating an outline of course material.

·         Study early so the learner can attend tutorials to review difficult material.

·         Use online games for review. Many can be found at or check with the teacher.

·         Teach test-taking skills including the following:

o   Memory dump—write down what you are afraid of forgetting (definitions, formulas, dates, mnemonics, etc.) on the test as soon as it begins.

o   Do easier questions first, then return to harder ones.

o   Highlight key instructional words related to the directions about details, types of answers requested, etc.

o   Cancel out obvious wrong choices.

·         Teach relaxation skills such as use of a squeeze ball, arriving on time rather than early, controlling breathing, meditating and praying, taking breaks, and positive self-talk.

·         Give lots of encouragement during study time and just prior to the test.
Good luck, and remember--it's just a test, and they can't actually kill you when it's over!