It’s time for a vacation, somewhere tropical no students in sight. Are you ready to leave? Fantastic! One little thing, this is your pilot’s first flight, but don’t worry, he’s studied plenty. He knows all about wind speed, velocity, and the history of flight. No one actually taught him what buttons to push or levers to pull, but hey, that’s the easy part right? C’mon, climb onboard! What we expect of this particular pilot is essentially, what we expect from students unless we teach them how to study and how to take tests. Understanding the material is useless if your students enter panic mode the moment you say, “begin”. They rush through instructions, worried they won’t have time for answers, forget things they knew only minutes before and spend too much time on one question they will probably get wrong instead of skipping ahead and getting points for the things they do know. Giving students a solid base understanding of how to prepare for and take a test will give them a solid foundation for the remainder of their education.
There isn’t enough time to do it all!
I understand, classrooms are full and most teachers spend their precious time locked into the common core requirements. Finding time to add anything but the strict necessities is a challenge, but teaching your students how to study properly and manage test anxiety will only improve their scores and your success rate. Here’s the basic science: The more a student cares about their grades the more stressed they will get about tests. The more stressed they get the more stress hormones are released by the reptilian parts of their brains. When the rest of the brain gets the “fight or flight” message from these hormones it shuts down all other function. The portions of student’s brains that are responsible for short-term memory close the door to access the information you worked so hard to teach.
How do I convince everyone to chill?
- First, you must relax. We can be really caught up in getting everything done, making sure everyone is in the right place, and that we have enough time for what we need to do. If you seem stressed, and you don’t even need to take the test, imagine how your students feel!
- Spend some time going over best practices for test taking. Read every question over twice; underline important words (give the best example, which two are not involved in…). Answer the questions you are sure of first then return to those that are more challenging. If you feel yourself getting upset stop and take a few deep breaths. Don’t worry about people who finish before you – maybe they didn’t know very many answers. When answering an essay question restate the question as an opening statement then provide the answer with no extraneous information.
- Get them ready before test day. Remind students that studying over the course of many days is far superior to cramming all in one night. A good way to demonstrate this with older students is to explain that they are creating neuropathways for the information. A path is a road, and a road in the brush is created more effectively by driving over it every day, making solid tracks, and crushing the greenery. You’ll never made tracks as deep and efficient in one night as you will over time. Warn them that skipping sleep to study backfires, a rested brain can react more quickly than one that needs a nap!
- Give them a few minutes before the test to get out the jitters. In college, one of my favorite professors taught us about the science of brain chemistry and test taking. She told us, and I have no idea if it is true or not, but she told us that lying flat on our backs with our legs up a wall would help trigger relaxation. It looked silly, but every member of our class could be found in various hallways before tests, legs up the wall, laughing and chatting. It may have been a placebo or it may be scientifically sound but whatever the cause each of us who adopted the method brought our test scores up. Give your students that gift, a moment of quiet meditation, a little yoga, perhaps something more intense like some running in place expel nervous energy and warm up the brain. (See this article on movement and learning)
There are endless ways to help students test well, create scent and sound memories to employ while teaching and then revisited during testing to assist in recall, helping each student find the study method that works best for them, and so much more. The most important thing is to give students the tools and confidence to show what they know! Do you have a trick for preparing students for or relaxing students during exams? When did you learn your best study practices?