Test anxiety needs no formal introduction. Most of us have experienced it—and if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the impact it can have on your students’ performance and self-esteem. Below we’ve pulled a few stress-management tips from Neal A. Glasgow and Cathy D. Hicks’ book, What Successful Teachers Do: 91 Research-Based Classroom Strategies for New and Veteran Teachers.
6 Ways to Reduce Your Students’ Test Anxiety
Model low levels of anxiety in front of your students
It should be no surprise that research shows a connection between the way we negotiate stress and the way our students handle it. If we’re stressed, chances are that it’s going to rub off on our students. We can apply every stress-management strategy in the book, but if we fail to create a positive classroom culture, even the best stress-management activity will fall flat.
As Tim Haston, a 7th grade math and science teacher at Earlimart Middle School, suggests, teachers would do well to approach test days like athletes do game day. “It is the performance; it is the thing we grow all year to be excited for. I don't want them to work around any anxiety, I want to teach them how to channel it as athletes do for a game, musicians do for a concert, and actors do for their play/movie/show.”
In addition to modeling low levels of anxiety in front of our students, we can also teach them how to be in tune with their bodies and minds. Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise we like to use before tests:
With erect posture, breathe in deeply through the nose and hold your breath for a count of 8-10 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through the mouth, counting 8-10. Repeat this procedure several times until relaxation occurs.
This mindfulness exercise fits in nicely with what Tim Haston said in our first point.
Tell students to try what Olympic athletes do to develop confidence in their performance. Picture yourself in a tense situation, such as taking a test, and visualize yourself looking over the test, seeing the questions, and feeling secure about the answers. Imagine yourself answering the questions without too much difficulty. Complete the picture by imagining yourself turning in the paper and leaving the room assured that you did your best.
Where do your students feel most at peace? One spot could be at the ocean. Have students identify a place and use all their senses to imagine themselves there and how they feel when they are there. Guide them in an activity: Watch the waves with the whitecaps rolling up the shoreline onto the beach. Listen to the waves and the seagulls. Smell the salty air and feel your fingers and toes in the warm, soft, and grainy sand.
Keep in mind that this activity should be done with some reserve. It may not work for all of your students, so gauge the class and encourage students not to give up on relaxation exercises just because this one doesn’t work well for them.
Write Letters of Encouragement
This activity will require more effort on the part of the teacher, but it’s one that will certainly stick with students. Before a major exam or standardized test, write a letter of encouragement to each student the day before. If you have the time to custom-tailor each note, your effort will go a long way, but a generic note will also have a positive impact on your students.
We’d like to thank Angela Oliver, a 7th and 8th grade teacher from Leggett, Texas, for sharing this idea with us!
Watch This Test Does Not Define You
This Test Does Not Define You is one video we always show students in the weeks preceding big exams. Not only does it do a nice job of dispelling a few myths about testing, it also sends them an important message: They are not defined by test results! The video also highlights some simple research-based activities that reduce test-anxiety.