De-stress for the test: Reducing test anxiety in your classroom

Tests are a routine part of any educational experience. For most students, tests offer an opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned about a particular topic. For others, however, tests can be a source of stress.

According to the American Test Anxieties Association (amtaa.org), up to 20 percent of students have high test anxiety, with another 18 percent affected by moderate anxiety. Whether your students are suffering from high levels of stress, or are just a little nervous, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce test anxiety in your classroom.

Child looking over test at school

What is test anxiety?  

Test anxiety is a psychological condition resulting in stress and nervousness in testing situations. Many people experience a little apprehension before (and sometimes during) a test. In fact, some anxiousness can be beneficial as it creates an adrenaline rush that helps students stay alert and focused. For other students, though, feelings of worry can become overwhelming and can have a negative impact on test performance.

What are the symptoms of test anxiety? 

Test anxiety can vary among students. It can range from mild nervousness before a test to physical symptoms including headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, or rapid heartbeat. Along with physical symptoms, affected students can also experience feelings of helplessness and disappointment, as well as anger and fear. Anxious students also report difficulty concentrating and often have negative thoughts, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (www.adaa.org).

As a teacher, you may be able to recognize signs of test anxiety just by observing your students. Anxious students may be exceptionally fidgety or may be quieter than usual. Some may even express their concerns to you before the test.

How can you help students manage test anxiety? 

If your students are nervous about an upcoming test, there are steps you can take to build confidence and reduce apprehension.

Preparation is key 

Promote good study habits and remind students to review for several days before a test rather than cramming in information the night before. Spend time reviewing material as a class, too.

Practice makes perfect  

If possible, offer practice tests or trial runs especially for younger students, who may be new to test taking, so they can experience a test-like setting before the actual exam.

Go beyond the right answer

Successful test-takers do well not just because they know the answers, but also because they give themselves the best chances for doing well. They read all directions carefully, highlight important information in the question before proceeding, and answer questions they know first before going back to the tougher ones. Using scrap paper to complete math problems will help students get organized, and creating outlines or notes before a writing assignment will keep students on track and help reduce anxiety.

Relaxation rules

If anxiety builds before or during a test, help your students relax by reminding them to take deep, slow breaths and make a conscious effort to relax their muscles.

Highlight healthy habits

Before test day, promote a healthy lifestyle that will benefit all areas of a student’s life, including test-taking skills. Getting a good night’s sleep and eating a nutritious breakfast will set the foundation for a successful test session.

Attitude matters

Don’t underestimate the power of a positive attitude. Encourage your students to believe in themselves when it comes to their test-taking abilities and remind them that a test grade doesn’t define their self-worth.

Engage parent help

Outside the classroom, parents can help keep children calm before a test. Find suggestions in our parent guide, “Homework Tips and Test-Taking Strategies.”

How can you reduce test anxiety in your classroom? 

As you approach any test, there are fun and easy steps you can take to lower anxiety levels among your students.

Set the mood 

Post positive messages on your board or distribute individual statements of encouragement to students. Try this fun idea.

Address the stress 

Acknowledge that tests can be stressful, but remind your students that they can do it. Promote their self-confidence by encouraging them to believe in themselves and reassure them: You don’t expect perfection. You just want them to do their best. Need inspiration? Check out what this class did.

Try a treat

Studies have shown peppermint promotes mental alertness, so offer small peppermint patties or mint candies to your students. Or, provide a pack of Smarties® to remind students that they’ve got what it takes to conquer the test.

Bust out the brain breaks

During a particularly long test, break up test-taking sessions with quick stress busters. Find some ideas here.

Unwind at the end

After the test is over, celebrate with a reward. This can range from an in-class movie to ice pops on a hot day. And most of all, remind your students that you’re proud of them for working hard and doing their best.

What do you do to conquer test anxiety in your classroom?

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