“My child knows the material, they really do, but they just freeze up when they take the test.” I have heard this from more than one parent.
Knowing the material is important, very important. Explaining the material to your child taking into account his or her particular learning style, teaching organizational and time management skills to make sure your student knows to study early and often, and breaking up the material into small, easily absorbed sections are all essential components of good study techniques. You can even study the teacher’s past exams with your student for useful insights into the teacher’s testing style. Nonetheless, your child may still find the testing situation thoroughly stressful.
Your student is not alone.
First Lady Michelle Obama said, “I was never a great test taker. I would always get nervous and feel a great deal of anxiety over test-taking. So it was always a point of frustration for me personally.”
However flawed the test-taking system is for student evaluation, it is the method our academic system uses most often. “You can fight the tests or you can work with it and turn them into an advantage. But ultimately, you’ve got to be good students,” says Mrs. Obama.
How can you help your child become a better test-taker?
According to Dr. Ben Bernstein, “Knowing the content is not enough. You have to deliver it at test time. If you’re tense, filled with self-doubt, or distracted, you won’t perform at your best.”
Studies show that to perform well, a student must be “calm, confident, focused”. Dr. Bernstein compares this trifecta to a three-legged stool. In order for a three-legged stool to be a dependable platform, all three legs must be equally strong. In addition to thoroughly knowing the material, the student must be calm, confident, and focused.
There are many techniques a student can use to help ward off test taking anxiety.
Visualization is an important one. Before your child goes to sleep each night tell them to see taking a test in their ‘mind’s eye’ and performing wonderfully. The more detailed this visualization, the more they can practice success and ward off choking because of stress. Visualization can also help them to remember facts: going over facts before sleep, putting them in order, can help cement the facts in their memory.
Relaxation. It takes only a few minutes but a student should find a quiet place before the test to rest, breathe easily, and relax their muscles. “Take deep breaths imagining you are ‘inhaling good, positive energy’, and as you exhale, see all the stress and negativity leaving your body. In with the good, out with the bad.” After several repetitions, they should feel the stress significantly reduced.
Exercise. Sleep. Breakfast. The night before a test, encourage your child to have a swim or go for a run to get rid of excess tension and give their mind a break. If they have studied a little bit every day, they will be fine. Last minute cramming is seldom beneficial. A rested mind is most important to concentration and logical thinking. A good breakfast will get all the brain cells firing — and off they go.
Be Positive. Often the student feels the greatest pressure at exam time comes from their family. Just tell them to do their best. Be reassuring and positive. After all, it’s only a test. If it doesn’t go well, perhaps it can be taken again.
A Treat. Regardless of the outcome, your student should have something to look forward to. A Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone could be the perfect antidote to a stressful test and provide a moment for the two of you to talk through how it went. Then move on and focus on what else is coming up in school. One thing we know is that there always will be …another test!
Janis Adams, ceo/owner, Academic Achievers