Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Test Anxiety: It’s That Time of Year Again

Spring is the time of year when students across the United States are taking standardized state tests. People may debate the importance of these tests, the validity of the results, and the focus they can consume in instruction time. There is one universal element, however, that everyone can agree upon.

Many students experience text anxiety to some degree. Many times, parents are more concerned as to how their child is going to handle the test anxiety than they’re worried about their student’s knowledge of the material. 

In Florida, students begin taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in the third grade.  When my oldest was in third grade, we had our first encounter with this phenomenon. My daughter was an excellent student, a good test-taker, and seemed to perform well under pressure (dance recitals, piano recitals, etc.).

You can imagine our surprise the morning of her first FCAT day when she had a complete meltdown because I didn’t have mint tea in the house. When she left class the day before, her teacher innocently sent them off giving advice to get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, maybe drink mint tea, etc. My daughter translated that to mean in order to do well on this mysterious FCAT test she’d been hearing about for months, she must do all these things, including drinking mint tea. Well, we sprinkled some mint in a cup of tea, sent her on her way, and all was well. 

Even the best students who are calm in a variety of school situations can experience text anxiety. An unfortunate outcome is that this anxiety can affect performance, and the results may not be a true reflection of the student’s knowledge and ability. We’ve all seen those great students who are poor test takers and likewise, those great test takers who are low performers in school.

Testanxietytips.com is on online community offering many different resources to understand and work through test anxiety.  Among them:

  1. There are two types of test anxiety: anticipatory and situational. Anticipatory test anxiety plagues you before the test. Situational test anxiety occurs during the test.
  2. Test anxiety is similar to other anxiety and can be treated in a similar manner.
  3. Fear that you will not be able to answer the questions on the test is one of the major causes of test anxiety. Procrastinating and waiting until the last minute to “cram” for an exam is one of the worst approaches you can take if you wish to avoid anxiety.
  4. A consistent, planned study schedule is one of the best preventions for test anxiety. Planning your study schedule as you take your classes will help you devote the appropriate amount of study time to topics you have covered in class.
  5. It is possible to learn how to alleviate situational test anxiety before the test actually occurs by practicing anxiety relief techniques ahead of time.
  6. If you get sufficient sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly before the test, you are less likely to suffer from test anxiety.
  7. Breathing techniques and meditation can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety both before and during your test.
  8. Stretching at your desk, getting a drink of water, or stepping away from the testing area to take a short walk can help settle your nerves during the test.
  9. Test anxiety is very common, so you are not alone if you suffer from it. Chances are that most of your classmates also have some level of worry or concern about final exams.
  10. Test anxiety can occur when you focus on past failures or difficulties you have had with similar tests.

Recent research purports a solution for test anxiety by having students write about the fear before the test. According to the study, “students who spend 10 minutes before an exam writing about their thoughts and feelings can free up brainpower previously occupied by testing worries and do their best work.” 

I think it is very important for both educators and parents to realize test taking anxiety can be a very serious problem for many students. Every child is unique, and parents tend to know what works best for their own child in different situations.

I’d love to hear what you do at home that you have found successful in the past to combat those test-taking jitters!

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