There is always some anxiety associated with taking a test, and for some kids, the anxiety can negatively impact their performance. Students may know the material, but through unfamiliarity with the test format, a misunderstanding of the directions, illness or fatigue, they may not perform well. Standardized tests are commonly given on the computer, which many young children treat like a video game, quickly clicking any answer just to make it to the next "level", while students lacking computer expertise struggle with the technology, lowering their performance.
There are several things parents can do to help a child prepare for tests to reduce anxiety and maximize performance.
Before the Test
- Make sure your child gets a good night's sleep. Don't stay up late cramming information, but break it down into manageable chunks to be reviewed over a period of time.
- Feed your child a good breakfast in the morning. Proper nutrition helps the brain work more effectively and keeps the child energized.
- Teach your child deep breathing techniques to reduce anxiety. Deep breathing calms the brain, allowing the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus to access learning and memory.
- Ask about the test format. Will it be essay, multiple choice, true/false or short answer? Knowing the format helps determine how to best review and practice the material.
- Instruct your child to read the directions of each section of the test and follow them carefully. Instructions such as "Record the answer which DOES NOT apply," or "Using the diagram of a basic electrical circuit, explain the function of EACH PART," can be easily misinterpreted if a student is careless about reading directions.
- Advise your child to work through the examples. Examples are given to familiarize students with the section format and directions. If a student has trouble understanding the examples, he will have difficulty with the actual test questions.
- Tell your child to be aware of deadlines on timed tests. A student shouldn't spend a lot of time on the multiple choice section if she needs to write a lengthy essay at the end of the test.
- On essay tests, students should write everything they know about the topic on a separate sheet of paper. Organize these notes into an outline before writing the essay. The outline will help them stay organized and include key information.
- On multiple choice tests, your child should eliminate incorrect answer choices immediately. This narrows the field of possible correct choices.
Students should use any remaining time to check their work. Rework math calculations, make sure an essay or short response paragraph answers all the requirements of the test question, check spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
When you get the test back, review the results. Check for any gaps in understanding to review the areas of difficulty. Remember, a test is only one way to assess learning. Many high-achieving students perform poorly on tests due to test anxiety. To lessen their stress, I remind my students before each test that a test is to let me know what they've already learned, so I can teach them what they need to know.
Tests are a necessary tool to assess student achievement and will always be a part of your child's academic environment. Teaching children how to prepare, execute, and review tests will help them maximize their performance and achievement. Test on Friday? No problem!