Test-Taking Toolbox: How to manage and reduce test related stress

By: Leigh Ann Pernell

We have become a nation of numbers—driven by statistics and data. Our fixation on testing, scoring, and ranking our young learners has created an epidemic of test anxiety. While we cannot control the standardized testing or other mandates that flow into the classroom, we can control the tone, share positive expectations, and provide young learners with the tools to manage the inevitable stress that goes hand in hand with testing.

We have a greater impact than we often think when it comes to preparing children for assessments. A test does not have to be viewed as a negative, gut-wrenching experience. It can be a dynamic ingredient that provides us with quality information to refine and enhance teaching and learning. When we use assessments as formative tools, they allow us to reflect on students’ individual needs, in hopes of leading to growth over time. With a little understanding and some preparation, we can help students overcome test anxiety—or at least move past it.

What Is Test Anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to anticipating something stressful—and tests are definitely that. Test anxiety affects both the body and the mind. When under stress, the body reacts with dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, and a pounding, rapid heartbeat. Nausea and headaches assault the body while distracting thoughts and debilitating fears stream through the mind. These symptoms leave little room for the clear thinking and focus we need to perform at our best.

Stress is the body’s response. When students worry, their sleeping and eating habits are interrupted. They experience discomfort, feel irritable, and suffer from an inability to concentrate.  Test anxiety is a growing problem and these symptoms interrupt our children’s quality of learning and quality of life. So, how do we equip students with the tools to manage stress and help them truly show what they know when test time rolls around?

Strategies for Tackling Test Anxiety

When Preparing for a Test,

  • Start preparing early and set study goals.
  • Allow plenty of time to review and prepare.
  • Take one step at a time. Try not to become overwhelmed by material or expectations.
  • Build confidence by reviewing the material frequently in small blocks of time.
  • Try not to procrastinate. Follow the goals you have set for yourself.

 Before the Test,

  • Eat right and make sure to get some exercise. Eating healthy foods will keep your systems in check, and exercise is a great stress buster.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the day before testing. Your mind and body need rest to work at optimum levels.
  • Engage in positive self-talk. Instead of “I’m going to fail this test,” say, “This is just one way to show what I know.” Try to transform the nervous anxiety into positive energy. “I have prepared for this test, and I will do my best.”

During the Test,

  • Try to be positive and think about a post-exam reward for motivation.
  • Know test-taking strategies and use them. Utilize suggestions that you have been taught for success.
  • If anxiety creeps in, remember to use deep breathing techniques to calm yourself and concentrate. Inhale deeply, filling your lungs. Hold your breath quietly for a few seconds and then consciously exhale slowly.
  • Use muscle relaxation techniques. Tense and release specific muscle groups to help your body relax, reset, and move forward.
  • Tune others out. It doesn’t matter when classmates finish. We all work at different rates, so take your time and do your personal best.
  • Skip over trickier questions and move on to easier ones. You can always go back and try the more difficult ones again later.
  • Ask questions if you are unclear about directions.
  • Take a break when you can. The teacher or proctor will let you know when you can stand up, stretch, or take a bathroom break. Take advantage of those opportunities to relax and reset.
  • Continue your positive self-talk to stay calm and confident. “This is only one measure of what I know, but I will give my best effort.”

At Carson Dellosa, we are ready to help!

As thought leaders in education, we know that one important tool for easing test anxiety is practice, practice, practice. Carson-Dellosa’s Spectrum® Test Prep and Test Practice materials were created to help students improve and strengthen their test-taking skills. These activities provide essential practice in the areas of reading, math, and language arts, while presenting students with opportunities to work with a variety of test formats. Students learn how to follow test directions, develop effective test-taking strategies, manage time wisely, and avoid common testing mistakes. The grade specific Spectrum Test Practice books include comprehensive practice tests that are aligned to state standards. These quality materials give students a feel for what to expect in testing situations.

Spectrum® subject specific books were created to build skills in reading, language arts, spelling, writing, vocabulary, math, problem solving, science, and much more. These books are tailored to focus on specific learning areas and strengthen grade level skills. The materials teach and reinforce concepts, allowing students to move toward mastery as they prepare to be college- and career-ready. You can check out these quality tools and even download a sample on the website.

Calming Test Anxiety

We can help calm test anxiety by steering children away from self-defeating thoughts and by building their test-taking toolboxes. Positive practice builds the strategies that will help young learners show what they really know in assessment situations. We cannot control standardized testing, but we can control the tone and provide the tools to help students cope with the task at hand. The way students think about testing situations dictates how they will react to them. Our actions influence students and impact their learning and achievement. We can celebrate students for who they are and give them the tools and strategies to help them do their best. A test is simply one step in their educational journey—learning is a lifelong process.