Two strategies to combat test stress

combat test stress

This month across the state of Tennessee students will take assessments in math, reading, science and social studies to measure their learning over the course of the school year and their preparedness for the upcoming year. It’s easy to get overly amped during this time and create a stress-filled environment for kids and adults alike. Here are two research-based and teacher-approved strategies to dial down the stress and dial up a calm, confident testing environment.


1. Focus classroom instruction on transferable strategies.

Years of research show that there are a lot of test prep materials in the world that produce, at best, a slightly positive impact on student test scores and, at worst, a negative impact. The truth is often the hardest route — the best test prep is great instruction every day of the school year. However, there are some actions teachers and schools can take to help students shape test-taking skills they can use for their entire educational career. I recommend reading this article from Learner-Centered Initiatives for more on this research, but I outline some of favorite take-aways below.


Rather than going through each answer choice on practice tests to the point of nausea, teachers can model their thinking for students. For example, when I am modeling reading a story and answering questions about it, I can say to students, “One strategy I like to use to make sure I’m thinking while I’m reading is to jot some notes about what I’m learning from the text in the margin.” This is a strategy that can apply to anything students read, and is not specific to a certain type of test question.


Teachers should also encourage students to think about which strategies work for them. Strategies such as “process of elimination” work for some us, but are less useful for others. Students should take ownership of the test-taking strategies that work for them. After working independently, I ask my students, “Which strategy did you use today?” I ask them to consider if it helped them be successful on today’s work.


2. Practice relaxation strategies.

We want our students feeling calm and confident on test day. In my class, we spend a little time practicing relaxation strategies.


Here are some of my favorites:
The orange squeeze: Squeeze both hands into a tight fist. Pretend that you are holding an orange and squeezing it tightly. Then, release your grip on the orange and let it roll to the floor. Repeat the squeeze and release several times.


Belly breathing: Put your hand on your belly. Take a deep breath and feel your belly push out your hand. Slowly let your breath go. Repeat and feel your belly push your hand out and in.


Head to toe: Start at your toes. Squeeze them as tight as your can in your shoes. Then let them relax. Move to your legs. Squeeze your leg muscles tightly and let them relax. Move to your stomach. Squeeze your stomach muscles tightly then let them relax. Move to your arms. Squeeze your arm muscles tightly then let them relax. Move to your face. Squeeze your eyes shut tightly then let them relax and open.