Despite an increased emphasis on approaches like personalized learning and inquiry-based learning, tests remain an important fixture in the academic calendar. However, for some students, the pressure of tests looming on the horizon stops them from trying their best and leads to exam stress.
Of course, no teacher or parent wants to see a student stressed out over any single test. So, what can educators do to help their students manage test anxiety and take the fear out of testing day? Here are seven of our favorite tips:
1. Schedule revision time into your class time
Having a good understanding of the material to be tested and preparing beforehand are two things that students can control when it comes to being tested, and both can bring a lot of confidence and peace of mind to students. Make sure your students go into their exams having a well-thought-out revision plan so they have had plenty of chances to brush up on knowledge and skills they’ll be assessed on.
Consider offering extra revision sessions outside class as well. After-school drop-in sessions and revision clubs are all low-pressure options that anxious students, looking for some additional practice, will appreciate.
2. Teach effective test-taking strategies
Test taking is a skill in itself. Help calm anxious students’ nerves by making sure they are familiar with and have confidence in their test-taking skills, as well as the actual content they’re being tested on. Some best practices include reading questions completely before answering them (especially for tricky technology-enhanced item types), skipping over questions that students don’t know in order to manage time, and reviewing answers if they have time at the end of the test.
It’s also really helpful to familiarize your students with the type of test environment they’ll experience. If tests will be taken online, for example, make sure your students are comfortable with the kind of devices they’ll use and any technology-enhanced item types they’ll encounter.
3. Help students create a revision timetable
Some students who struggle with exam stress spend countless hours studying and revising in a frantic effort to get ready for exams. While preparation is certainly key, it’s important to be focused about how to go about it and not to ‘cram’. Try helping your students create a revision timetable to follow at home. Encourage them to block out reasonable blocks of time during their week, taking into account other homework, extra-curricular activities, and time for relaxation. Having a schedule to follow can help students manage their stress levels, feel confident about their preparation, and make more productive use of their study time.
4. Teach practical anxiety-reduction exercises
For many students who suffer from exam stress, the worst moments occur when they’re in the exam itself. Basic anxiety-reducing techniques can be a big help for these students. Encourage your learners to practice simple deep breathing exercises, use positive self-talk and mantras, or do seated stretches to release tension once the test is under way.
5. Keep tests in perspective
In the grand scheme of things, no single test is going to define a student’s academic career, or have that significant an impact on their future. After all, it’s just one test. As an adult, it’s probably much easier for you to understand this perspective than it is for your students -you’ve had more experience with both failure and success, realize they both happen, and know that no matter what, the world keeps turning. Share this perspective with your students regularly, offering gentle reminders that every test is just a test, and no test defines how smart, successful or worthy they are.
6. Ask students where their fear is coming from
Having a better understanding of why a student is anxious can be hugely helpful in figuring out the best way to manage it. Some students will be able to articulate their feelings better than others, but asking the question will provide valuable clues as to what will help calm a student down.
7. Focus on positive experiences
Students struggling with exam stress are wrapped up in patterns of negative thinking when it comes to tests. They’re focusing on all of the mistakes they could make, everything that could go wrong, and how catastrophic a bad score could be. Shift their focus by helping them reflect on some positive past experiences. Ask them to tell you or write about a test that they did well on. What did they do leading up to that test? How did they feel about it before and after? Getting a student to stop and remember how able they are can go a long way toward breaking the negativity cycle – and calm their nerves in the process.
As teachers yourselves, you’ve undoubtedly come across students suffering from test anxiety. If you have any additional suggestions that could help others, we’d love to hear them! Just email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.