By Wendy Taylor, M.Ed, Executive Director, Learning Essentials
The time of year has come again…testing season. The weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help younger learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.
Tips for Elementary Schoolers:
– Testing can be especially stressful and even anxiety-producing for young students. Their desire to do well, outperform their peers, or surpass a previous score could create unnecessary pressure. To combat nerves, teachers and parents should focus on reassuring students of their successes beyond a simple test score. Talk about how a test score is simply one data point—it does not invalidate a child’s previous accomplishment or dictate the possibility of any future accomplishment.
– Instead of focusing on reaching a specific score, hitting a certain benchmark, or creating unnecessary competition among peers, help young elementary schoolers set goals for growth or practice positive test-taking habits. Help children by setting goals like aiming to get adequate sleep, eating a healthy, filling breakfast, and spending some time exercising each day—these are positive habits that can help motivate students in the right direction while taking the focus off of the grade or score.
– Discuss the true purpose of a standardized test and, in turn, remove some of the burden from elementary schoolers. Of course, parents and teachers do not want to convey the message that these exams do not matter; however, we can ease the anxiety by reminding children that a test score is meant to provide data for the school—it is not meant to target or torment the children that may happen to underperform. Again, keep them focused on aspects or contributors that they can control, like sleep, nutrition, self-motivation, and positivity.
– Parents and teachers can help elementary schoolers by providing them with several different test-taking strategies or tips. Since children in elementary school are just beginning to get a taste of exams or standardized tests, they are likely less familiar with all of the different strategies and practices that they can employ during a lengthy assessment. Encourage them to use the following skills:
~ Tell them they should consider reading the questions first so that they know what they are to be looking out for ahead of beginning the reading or excerpt.
~ Encourage students to take their time when working through the assessment. If they are concerned about running out of time, skip difficult questions or sections and answer the easiest questions first. This will not only help students to knock out portions of the assessment, but it will give them a dose of motivation, self-assurance, and positivity in knowing that some of their answers came easily.
~ Have children practice eliminating answer options that they know are incorrect. This practice helps to remove the distractibility factor that multiple choice questions can have.
~ Teachers should tell students ahead of time that they will provide time updates or occasional countdowns during testing so that students can gauge how diligently they are working throughout the exam. A time check not only tells students how much time is remaining in the session, but also allows students to modify their work pace. This information helps students complete all questions and take more time reading carefully and checking answers if necessary.
Tips for Middle Schoolers:
– Remind middle schoolers of strategies and routines that are within their control. Test-taking can be stressful due to the uncertainty and lack of control. To boost confidence and instill beneficial practices, talk to students about how they can put their best foot forward before even sitting down to take the exam.
~ Jumpstart their day with a healthy, filling breakfast that will keep middle schoolers fueled through the morning. Parents and teachers may want to consider providing students with a small snack during testing to keep the hunger edge off. Check with the school about their protocol for snacks while testing and consider packing a water bottle with your child as well. Hunger and thirst can be major distractions when it comes to learning, so a little pick-me-up might go a long way with keeping middle schoolers motivated and attentive during a morning of testing.
~ For any number of reasons, likely technology-related stimuli, middle schoolers are getting less and less sleep these days. Breaking poor sleeping habits can take a while before the body truly adjusts to a new schedule. Take action early by encouraging middle schoolers to adhere to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule leading up to assessment week. A regular sleep and wake time helps the body adjust to a healthy circadian rhythm, which will stave off any fatigue and keep students alert and focused during testing.
~ Think positive thoughts. Remind students that a test is simply one indicator of learning. And while we would like middle schoolers to take their testing seriously, we do not want them to be consumed with anxiety and stress. The mantra “do your best, forget the rest” helps learners to focus more on genuine effort and less on perfection or final scores.
– Annotating is a practice that middle schoolers have probably been honing throughout the school year. Obviously, close reading and analytical thinking skills are beneficial across content areas—annotating is a practice that students are completing in science, history, English, and even math. Additionally, close reading and annotating can greatly help students during assessments as well.
– A helpful strategy is to provide students with practices in which they annotate test questions, text excerpts, and written response prompts. The key is to help students identify what a question, answer option, or prompt is truly asking. By highlighting key words, breaking down questions, or rephrasing questions, students are better able to focus their thinking.
– Parents should also remind middle schoolers about any 504 or IEP accommodations that they should be granted for testing. Some assessments, like PARCC, do not allow for certain accommodations; however, accommodations apply during other tests. Parents, children, and teachers must be on the same page when it comes to testing accommodations for major exams or standardized tests. When in doubt, ask—this way children know what to expect on exam day and are not thrown off by a possible lack of accommodations.