Test Anxiety is a very real thing

finalsIt is that time of the year again for our middle and high school students. It is the time when a year’s worth of facts and lessons and demonstrations and labs will be measured through recollection, recitation, sleep deprivation, and self flagellation in an event known as Finals Week. Finals week is a bittersweet time, because there is no more stressful week of the school year but at the same time there is a light at the end of the tunnel known as summer. That light can be the motivator and also the distractor. You also have kids who know the material, have memorized the facts, have done their homework along the way, but they are scared to death because they know they are not good test takers.

Some of our best classroom participants just don’t test well. Let’s see if we can help them.

test anxiety

Test anxiety is a very real thing. Now before you role your eyes and think I am throwing one more diagnosis out there, I am not. What I am talking about is the anxiousness and self-doubt that many students feel when they are about to take a test. There is a very real and certain stress that creates a physical reaction that actually impedes memory and clear thinking for some of our best and brightest students. You know who those students are and so do they.

Test anxiety is no different than generalized anxiety.

It just has the testing process as a trigger mechanism for the onset of stress induced symptoms. Symptoms of acute stress include: perspiration, sweaty palms, headaches, upset stomach, rapid heartbeat, and tense muscles. These symptoms produce a vascular reaction that is distracting and even painful.

Imagine: sitting down to take a test and suddenly your palms are sweating and you feel heat on the back of your neck. Your eyes begin to hurt because your headache has migrated into the space right behind your eyes. You stomach feels like it is churning and your just feel tight all over. Now try to remember those algebraic equations and the dates of all of the battles of the civil war and the structural breakdown of complex sentences and the digestive track of the earthworm. That’s what is happening to some of your students.

Before we talk about how to help them let’s talk about some causes and preventative steps.

What are the most common causes of test anxiety?

Here you go:

time managementcramming habits disorganization

These study issues are compounded by students worrying about how they will do on this test because of past failures. There are also students who worry how they are doing compared to friends and other students, and there are even some students who test poorly because of fear of testing poorly. They develop their own self-fulfilling prophecy, because the fear of failure leads to the stress that causes a physical reaction and diminishes concentration and recollection.

When preparation issues and/or self-confidence issues couples with fear and worry, and stress occurs, then the student becomes nervous and stressed.

  • The actual symptoms of nervousness are:
    • Having difficulty reading and comprehending what is being read
    • Having difficulty organizing thoughts
    • Having difficult retrieving key words
    • Having difficulty retrieving key concepts
  • Mental Blocking
    • Going blank on questions
    • Remembering the answer after the test is over.

So how do you help your students who are prone to test anxiety?

How to you help them calm down and recollect and recognize and perform?

There are three relatively easy things you can do, but it will take buy-in and effort from your students. Here you go:

Preparation: If your students are not prepared then being calm won’t matter.

If a student who is prone to test-stress if poorly prepared then you are pretty much guaranteed a stress reaction which will make a bad situation even worse. There is no way around a student having to take notes and use notes and reading assignments and learning along the way. If they are learning along the way then studying is a refresher for the memory.If they are cramming the night before then they are setting themselves up as prime candidates for stress and all its side effects.

Relaxing: Help your students test better by teaching them acute stress breakers.

These are activities that are designed to distract the mind from the activity that is causing stress and allow the student to take a break from the stress and lower its level a little. These activities are mental and physical distracters that allow a quick recharge of intellectual capacity. Talk to your students about using these following when they feel themselves getting stressed or when they can’t remember the answer to a questions they do know:

  • take long deep breaths
  • count to 10 while looking up
  • close your eyes for a count of 5
  • clinch your fists for 5 seconds and then release
  • stretch your legs and hold for a count of 5
  • clasp your hands and squeeze for a count of 5
  • write your name 3 times

Environment: There are things you can do to your classroom to make it as conducive as possible for ready recollection and calm testing.

Try the following:

  • Minimize Noise
  • Lighting – use at least a 75 watt bulb
  • Temperature- it is better to be cool than warm
  • Neatness- be ready to study & test
  • Comfort - but not too comfortable
  • Equipment – a desk is best

Stress is a very real performance inhibitor, and test stress is a very real cause of diminished academic performance. Give your students the best opportunity to succeed by helping them prepare, teaching them stress reduction tips, and making your room as compatible as possible for testing. You and your students will be glad you did!