“You will have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete this test. There are ten separately timed sections: one 25-minute essay, six other 25-minutes sections, two 20-minute sections, and one 10-minute section. Work as rapidly as you can without losing accuracy. Be sure to mark your answer sheet properly. You must use a No. 2 pencil…..Open your test booklets. You may begin.”
What do you think of when you hear these testing directions? How do you feel? Does the memory or flashback involve anxiety or fear? If so, you are in good company, as test anxiety seems to be prevalent and on the rise. May is the time when many students will take their Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. This month is also a very popular time for high school students to take the SAT and complete AP testing. With increased pressure and emphasis on standardized testing in our schools, test anxiety is at an all-time high. Having some nervousness may be a sign that your child values the task and could actually be beneficial in making sure that they are well prepared. Test anxiety, which is characterized by excessive fear, is entirely different and can be debilitating, causing students to have difficulty with concentration and recall.
Test Anxiety- What is it?
Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety. Students with this condition experience severe distress before, during, and after an exam. The stress is not a result of being unprepared. Even though they have the skills to perform, anxiety prevents the student from demonstrating those skills. According to the American School Counselor Association, test anxiety can cause a variety of symptoms such as upset stomach, headache, fear, irritability, trouble focusing, anger, and even depression. Students may also demonstrate behaviors such as difficulty sleeping and a persistent urge to leave the classroom to go to the restroom or nurse. Up to 20 percent of the school-age population suffers from test anxiety. Another 18 percent may have a milder form of the condition, according to the American Test Anxiety Association. Anxiety creates a type of mental fog or static that impairs a student’s ability to comprehend, reason, and retrieve information from memory.
I Think my Kid has Test Anxiety, What Can I Do?
Emerging research in psychology and cognitive science is giving us a better understanding of the link between stress and performance. Educational expert and columnist, Annie Murphy Paul makes the following suggestions:
- Write it Down
Students can use a technique employed by psychologists called “expressive writing” to reduce negative thoughts. Have your student spend the time before a test writing down their thoughts and feelings about the test. This practice allows students to off-load their worries onto the page, freeing up more brain power for the test.
- Focus on Values
Test anxiety can be especially high in minority and female students. Studies conducted with these groups have shown that test anxiety is reduced and performance improved when students focus on or write about something they value and why it is important to them.
- Try Relaxation Exercises
If they are stressing the night before the test, kids can do a simple relaxation exercise by lying down, closing their eyes and focusing on their breathing. Then they can focus on tensing and releasing the muscles in their shoulders, arms, stomach, legs, and so on.
Having to take a test is bad enough. If your student is one of the many who struggle with test anxiety, the anticipation, panic, and worry over forgetting everything can make assessment unbearable. Hopefully one of the short exercises above will help to alleviate some of the test-taking stress this month.
–Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC