Spring is the time for high stakes tests. You know, the ones with the bubble answer sheets that go on for days and weeks at a time. The results play a large part in a school’s rating and may impact school funding. It’s no wonder districts spend a lot of time teaching test taking strategies and appeal to parents to make sure kids get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast on test days. I’ve even seen schools hold pep rallies to motivate kids to do their best and give out peppermint candy to help stimulate the brain.
Many students find the pressure to do well causes them to have test anxiety which in fact has the opposite effect on results. According to Rebecca Jackson, co-author of The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting that Helps Our Children Succeed in School and Life, 16- 20% of students suffer from high test anxiety and an additional 18% from moderate-high anxiety. Their scores average around 12% less than their peers. These students may draw a blank or totally freeze up while taking tests even when they are well prepared.
Everyone experiences some anxiety during tests, but if it gets too high, kids don't do as well as they know they can and parents may blame them for not studying or trying hard enough. Here's how to get a grip to keep your kids (and you) from developing too much test anxiety:
1. Shift your perspective. We want our kids to do well in school so they have opportunities to succeed in the future. The reality is that if a student doesn’t do well on a test, it doesn’t mean they will drop out of school, become a criminal, and end up homeless. It just means they didn’t do well on a test. The important thing is that they give it their best shot which includes preparing well and persevering when problems are tough.
2. Accentuate the positive. It’s human nature to lean toward the things we do wrong so it takes conscious effort to focus on what we do right. The next time your child shows you the results of a test, make a big deal over the problems answered correctly and point out the effort he/she did to prepare. Instead of saying, "Great job! You're so smart.", say, "I know you worked really hard to learn that material. Great job!" Save reviewing the mistakes for another time. Ask for an explanation of his/her thinking so you can point out the good along with what went wrong.
3. Have fun. Life often gets in the way and we don't spend enough quality time with our kids. Plan regular times to spend with your child doing activities that he/she enjoys for the purpose of connecting with him/her. It could be anything and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Some ideas are: hiking, playing a board game, watching a video, cooking, and drawing. Be curious – ask lots of questions (but not about school) - and enjoy the time together.
Don't wait to get started. Putting these ideas into practice well before a high stakes test will help reduce your child’s anxiety on test days and as an added bonus might help him/her sleep better the night before.
Wishing you a stress-free test season,