For many schools, April is testing season, and with testing comes a heightened sense of anxiety for many students and their teachers. The long blocks of silence and interruptions to the daily routine, not to mention worries about scores—personal and school-level—can take their toll on the entire school community.
You may not be able to erase the stress of testing season, but there are a few things you as an educator can do to reduce the negative impacts. As your testing week approaches, consider trying one or more of these survival tips. They may help your students feel less anxious and help them bring their best selves to the testing experience.
Prior to test days
Set students up for success.
Send notes home to families or guardians asking that they help students:
• Get plenty of rest on nights before testing.
• Eat a healthy breakfast on test days.
• Be at the bus stop or arrive at school on time.
Some students are responsible for getting themselves to school or may live in circumstances that make it difficult to achieve such a morning routine. Check with your school to make sure a healthy breakfast is available for students who participate in a school meal program—and remind your students of its availability. And consider helping students arrange carpools or brainstorming transportation options for those who have a hard time arriving before the bell.
Arrange the classroom for testing.
Some schools require desks to be in straight rows. If that’s not the case at your school, consider letting students choose how to orient their desks. They might put their desks facing walls, in corners, anywhere that they feel is “their own space.” Some students might prefer to be facing a bookshelf instead of looking at their peers. Students know what they need to be at their best; give them the flexibility to find places in the room that allow them to feel secure.
Prepare extra supplies.
Having a store of extra, sharpened #2 pencils on hand can avoid any last-minute scrambling. You might even consider buying pencils with encouraging phrases or cheerful prints on them—even older students can appreciate these small gestures, particularly if they get them to smile and break the tension. If buying pencils isn’t an option, try seeing if any local businesses or organizations might donate them.
Engage in movement exercises.
Help students relax and get their blood flowing. Lead the students in yoga, Tai Chi or any routine that includes bending and crossover (right hand to left foot) actions. Students might jog in place and engage in some free movement. The movement not only helps students diffuse energy but also increases the blood flow to the brain.
Be present for your students.
Children usually perform best when tested by the teacher who teaches that subject. If that isn’t possible or if students will be taking tests in their homeroom with a different teacher, suggest to your colleagues that the person who teaches the tested subjects visits and walks through the testing site, making eye contact and offering verbal and non-verbal encouragement to each student. These small gestures can let students know that you believe they will do well and that you are pulling for them.
During transition times
Listen to music.
Providing a soundtrack during the downtime between tests can help students decompress and lift their spirits. Some experts believe that Baroque music at 60 beats per minute, such as J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” actually releases alpha waves in both the left and right sides of our brains. If classical isn’t a popular choice among students, ask them what they’d like to hear. Either way, music—particularly when paired with the types of physical movements described above—can help everyone involved in testing feel calmer.
Engage in creative and responsive activities.
In the days after testing concludes, hit the re-set button by giving your students an opportunity to work on an activity or assignment that focuses on their identity or on a topic that is of specific interest to them. After spending days on standardized tests, getting creative can help re-engage students by allowing them to put their academic skills to work on something more personally meaningful. For ideas, browse our bank of free Student Tasks and Teaching Strategies.