Students can begin feeling anxious about testing as early as kindergarten. Test anxiety can continue and even grow through middle school and high school. Here is a 5-step plan to help students at all grade levels feel less anxious about assessments throughout the school year.
Whether students are taking formative or interim assessments for screening and progress monitoring—or completing more stressful state-level tests—always remember to S.M.I.L.E.
Stay organized: A little prep work can make just about anything go more smoothly. Don’t wait until test day to organize and streamline your efforts. Take time to determine your needs and establish classroom and school routines in advance. Have a plan in place to allocate computers, tablets, and laptops. If necessary, create a system for students to test at different times. Prepare your students and your classrooms, and you will shine with confidence.
Model calm: Students are not the only people in school who experience test anxiety. Teachers, administrators, and other school personnel can sometimes feel anxious, especially as pressure to increase student achievement grows. Unfortunately, this anxiety can spread to students. When it’s time to talk about or give an assessment, always model a calm, cool demeanor. You’ll create a more relaxed environment by remembering to smile and keeping your sense of humor.
Incorporate positive energy: Chances are you’ve seen some of the research on how exercise reduces anxiety. However, you don’t need to make students do jumping jacks. Simply ask students to get up and stretch before an assessment to lighten the mood and distract them from the anxiety they may feel. You can also create more positive energy by letting students know it’s normal to feel some sort of anxiety before a test. Knowing they are not alone can help students feel less anxious.
Leverage data: What you do with data from students’ formative and interim assessments will affect students the most. Use your screening and progress monitoring data to help provide each student with the right practice at the right time. Review data to determine what’s working, what isn’t working, and most importantly, what to do next. Students who receive appropriate, personalized practice are more likely to experience success and gain confidence, which can reduce future test anxiety.
Embrace feedback: Get students to talk about their test experiences, either as a class or individually as time allows. How did it go? Did they feel prepared? What might they do differently next time? Students who learn to make their own decisions about how to prepare for tests begin developing a growth mindset. Give students the chance to share how they feel and provide them with continuous feedback on their progress toward goals to help ensure confidence moving forward.