Testing! Testing! Helping Students Overcome Test Anxiety and Prepare for Tests" DAY 1, Post 2

Thanks again to Daphne Atkinson for joining the Teaching and Learning CoP in this popular topic! If you haven't already, review Question 1 from Day 1 for more background.

Question 2 for the day: Is it possible to integrate test prep strategies into lesson planning, which would provide more opportunities for students to practice and "play" with some of the tactics?  If so, how?


Every class is a test-prep opportunity.  Test preparation is not something that happens separate from the rest of the classroom learning activities; it should happen simultaneously. 

First, what test preparation is not:  1) loading a ton of content into short-term memory (aka “cramming”) 2) focusing on a variety of “test tricks;” or 3) encouraging adversarial attitudes about being tested.  Because learners bring a variety of (mostly negative) attitudes to testing, the challenge is to deal with the emotional baggage; provide mitigating strategies to address test anxiety; and provide easy-to-implement, tried-and-true tactics for test day.

Some suggestions for getting started…Acknowledge right up front that testing will be an outcome of the classroom activity.  Remind learners that passing tests is part of the commitment they have made to achieving their personal learning goals.  It is not something done to them but something that they have an active role in, particularly as it relates to managing their performance.

In your classes, you can introduce strategies that can help reduce test anxiety—the sooner the better.  Some specific suggestions:

  • During classes, provide explicit instruction on how to approach test questions as you cover the curriculum. For example, if you are covering word problems in math, you could introduce the “Three Read” Process to structure student reasoning and problem solving.
  • Instructors can introduce the most common question types in a content area as they introduce the content.  Emphasizing the specific thinking skills required reminds students what is being assessed—their skills.
  • For instructors, remember that content provides a way to assess skills and even specific higher order thinking skills are used in almost all content areas.  Help students understand that reading skills are not just for language arts but math, social studies, and science as well. Ditto for critical thinking and analytical skills.
  • Work with students to address their strengths and weaknesses by using prior test results and observations from classroom participation.   
  • Tools like graphic organizers can prompt even the most anxious about the thinking sequence best suited for answering questions.
  • By answering the questions that learners feel most confident about first, they then have a chance to reduce their anxiety—experiencing the reassurance that comes from knowing the material.
  • Have students understand testing under timed conditions—how moving quickly to answer all the questions that the learner knows how to answer is a good strategy because it leaves time for the questions that need time and attention.  Students who have been approved for accommodations also need to understand the testing rules and policies; those granted extra time, still have to manage the available time.
  • Something to remember:  The familiar is less anxiety provoking than the unfamiliar. 

Instructors can coach students in the following because knowing what to expect on test day can go a long way to reducing anxiety:

  • Topic coverage
  • Kinds of questions
  • Testing on computer: the look, feel and functionality of the test interface
  • Testing on paper: the rules about test booklets, scrap paper, and answer sheets
  • Test sponsor’s policies and processes for scheduling, cancelling, and IDs

And finally, in every class, remind your learners about the importance of reading and following instructions carefully...and most importantly, doing what they are asked to do. 

Daphne, I love how you have shared that every class is an opportunity for "test prep". I particularly love your advice for getting started. Tests are often the elephant in the room, and diffusing the tension is a great first step in addressing them. 

I look forward to continuing the conversation in Day 2 and in reviewing participants' thoughts as well!