March means many things: St. Patrick’s Day, a certain basketball tournament, and the first of the spring flowers beginning to peak through the soil. It also means the start of the end-of-year testing season for many students. Some students seem to sail through this time with no issues, but for many–especially those who are taking so-called “high-stakes” tests that affect graduation, matriculation, passing to the next grade level, and so forth–this can be a time of great stress. In today’s post, let’s talk about a few practical things you can do to help mitigate this stress.
One: Remind your students that they are ready for this test.
You have been working all year (or more) toward this test. If you, as teacher, have been doing your job, and they, as students, have been doing theirs, testing is merely a formality. Some will be better at it than others, but the material on the test is not new nor designed to make students fail and perfect scores are rarely necessary for success. When it comes right down to it, don’t let your students forget all the hard work they have put in all year.
Two: Set up a calm environment.
The only thing a stressful or high-tension environment does is make your students stressed and tension-filled. A calm environment encourages calm students, and calm students can think and perform better. Promote calm during the lead-up to the test and, if you have any control over it, in the actual testing environment. Play relaxing music before testing, lead stretching exercises during testing breaks, be calm yourself, smile at your students, et cetera. These will all help create a calm environment and, therefore, calm(er) students. Calmer students are better test-takers.
Three: Help make sure your students’ basic needs are being met.
During my first three years of teaching, I taught a subject in a state that had high-stakes testing. In other words, in order for a student to pass my class, he or she had to get both a passing grade from me and pass a huge state-given test at the the end of the year. On testing day, I provided a healthy, nutritious breakfast to any of my students who wanted to show up to my room before school hours. Most showed up. I had good foods like fruit, yogurt, bagels and cheese, juice, cereal and milk, peanut butter and bread, et cetera. I won’t lie; this was expensive and paid for completely out of my own pocket, but I taught in a school where many of my students lived below the poverty line and didn’t have access to any breakfast, say nothing of a healthy one.
When basic needs are not being met, people cannot function at higher levels. I had no control over how much sleep my students got or if they had a safe environment at home, but I could easily make sure that hunger was not a problem, at least the morning of that test. As a teacher, it is important to not expect that you will be able to solve every one of your students’ problems, but for the cost of a solid trip to the grocery store, this was one problem I absolutely could solve.
Four: Don’t underestimate the power of final review sessions.
I can still remember my high school AP US History teacher coming in on a Saturday to hold a final review session before our AP exam. He didn’t have to do this. He was not paid extra for it. It was not material we didn’t have access to on our own. But the fact that he was there to go over it and direct us not only gave us confidence going into the exam, but it also gave us direction to our own studying and reassured us of how much we did remember and know.
Teaching in a high-stakes testing state, in-class review sessions served this same purpose. So did two great sets of review flash cards I found and passed out to all my students. So did the study guides I led my students through. Even if your students know all the material and are doing great, these sorts of activities bring the material to the forefront of their minds and reassure them that they do, in fact, know what they need to. And if they have forgotten something (or missed it in the first place), it allows you and them to correct this deficiency before they hit a question about it on the test.
Five: Strike a healthy balance between emphasizing how important the test is and reassuring the students that it is just one more piece of paperwork that needs to be completed.
It is important to make sure your students know how important a given test is, but chances are students already know this. If you put too much stress on the test, if you beat your students over the head with how important it is to their academic success and/or their future, if you do nothing but seemed stressed out by the test yourself, your students will feed on this stress too. You don’t want students to blow the test off or be too lackadaisical about the whole thing, but strike a balance. If you can model this (even if you are doing nothing but being a great actor or actress), your students have a better chance of striking that balance too.
And a bonus: Here are two products that are great for reviewing for testing!
FREE!!! Simple, easy to implement, and requires no prep! Can be done in one class period or spread out over a couple.
A fun way for students to help themselves and their classmates review before any type of test. This project takes several days, but generates great review material and games.
How do you help alleviate your students’ test anxiety? Any other ideas on test prep? Feel free to share!
This Week’s Featured Product
Looking for activities for those students who finish early? Need things to put in a sub folder? Want a couple of activities for a fun day? Here are eighteen activities that fit that bill. These are great for a wide range of abilities and interests! For more details or to download this product, click here!
This Week’s Journal Questions
For the teacher: What is one thing you do to help your students succeed when it comes to testing? Explain. How do you incorporate this and then improve on it each year?
For the student: What do you find most stressful about test-taking? What are three things you can do to help alleviate this stress? What is something your teacher can do to help? Explain.
A Recipe from My Kitchen
Becky’s Super Simple Cookie Bars
- ½ cup butter
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- Hint: If you don’t want to pull out your food processor or a bag and rolling pin to crush the graham crackers, crumble them in your hands, pour them in your dish at the called-for time, and pound them flat with the bottom of a drinking glass. You get a nice firmly-packed crust, and you don’t dirty more dishes.
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup M&Ms
- Many kinds work here–in the picture above I used leftover dark chocolate Christmas ones, but plain or minis work well too.
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 cup nuts of your choice, chopped and toasted
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup peanut butter
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Place butter in 9×13 dish and melt the butter in it (in microwave or oven).
- Spread liquid butter evenly over bottom of pan and cover with graham cracker crumbs. Press in firmly.
- Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over crumbs.
- Sprinkle M&Ms, chips, nuts, and seeds evenly over crust and sugar.
- Using a spoon and your fingers, dot very small scoops of peanut butter evenly over the top.
- Pour sweetened condensed milk over everything—cover the whole top as much as possible.
- Place in oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top just starts to turn a golden brown.
- Let cool completely before eating. (These are delicious warm and very tempting fresh out of the oven, but they need to cool in order to firm up, so if you decide not to wait, you will probably need to eat them with a spoon.)