Test-Taking Strategies for Test-Phobic Kids

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Standardized testing is a necessary evil for some homeschooling families, whether required by state law or chosen by the family as a measure of academic progress. For some students, test-taking can be downright nerve wracking.

If you've got a test-phobic student, try these test-taking strategies for a less stressful experience. 

Create a quiet and comfortable environment.

Any student needs a quiet environment for taking tests, but it is crucial for test-phobic kids who may be more easily stressed by distractions.

While it may be legal, depending on your state’s laws, to administer standardized tests at home, that may not be the best option. Home is a comfortable environment that may minimize stress, but you need to consider possible distractions.

If you’re going to test at home, minimize distractions by arranging for childcare for younger siblings or those who aren't testing, turning the ringer off the phone, and silencing cell phones and other electronics.

Other distractions may be impossible to eliminate, however. Barking dogs, trash pick up, mail delivery, and the UPS man can all cause unnecessary and stressful disturbances.

An alternative may be to arrange for group testing at a church or small private school. Our homeschool group has used both of these options. Churches will often allow use of their facilities any time during the week. The private school allowed us to use their classrooms during their spring break week.

The demeanor of the test administrator can go a long way toward creating a comfortable setting. The homeschool mom who administered tests for us had candy waiting on the desks for each of the kids. She let them know that they could enjoy the candy at any time during their test as long as they opened it quietly so they didn't disrupt the other kids.

It seems such a small gesture, but it went a long way toward putting the test-takers more at ease.

Give your kids practice tests.

You don’t want to spend excessive time practicing to take tests, but it’s wise to spend enough that your kids feel comfortable with the process. Most homeschooled kids will benefit from practicing aspects of testing which may be unfamiliar to them, such as filling in bubbles, not writing in the test booklet, and matching the number in the test booklet to its corresponding letter on the answer form.

This is particularly true of test-phobic kids. If they’re already nervous about test-taking, creating a sense of familiarity with the process can alleviate stress on testing day.

Foster the right attitude.

Most kids with test anxiety are stressed at the idea of drawing a mental blank, resulting in poor performance. Reassure your kids that standardized testing is a diagnostic tool for you, rather than a pass/fail assessment of knowledge and skill for them. Assure them that they can’t fail a standardized test and that the goal of the test is to reveal any areas that you may have failed to cover in your lesson plans.

(Note: I’m not suggesting that you mislead your children. In our state, standardized testing is required, but the results are not submitting to a governing body. In other states, there can be negative consequences for poor test scores. Check your state’s homeschool laws for the guidelines governing your state.)

Be prepared.

Make sure your kids are as mentally and physically prepared for testing as possible. One area I stress with my own children is that they memorize math formulas. I wasn’t great at math as a child, but one thing that has stuck in my memory all these years are the formulas I learned for calculations such as finding area, perimeter, or volume; the Pythagorean Theorem; and the proportion method for figuring percentages.

Ensure that your kids have the right equipment and know how to use it. It can be helpful for teens to have a scientific calculator - but only if they are completely comfortable using it. If they’re not, an inexpensive, hand-held calculator is probably more useful. Whichever calculator your student uses, make sure that it has fresh batteries.

When my oldest child was in public school in first grade, her teacher suggested that, in addition to getting a good night's rest and eating a hearty breakfast, students also eat a spoonful of peanut butter the morning of test days.

The additional protein was supposed to provide extra fuel for their bodies and keep them mentally alert. It may have simply been a placebo effect, but it seemed to work and was a practice we carried out even through taking the ACT.

Use untimed tests when possible.

The added pressure of knowing they're on the clock can cause a mental block for kids with test anxiety. There are several standardized tests that aren't timed. Choosing one of those options may be a life-saver for your test-phobic student.

Going into a testing experience with the right attitude and preparation and creating the most stress-free environment possible can put even test-phobic students at ease, resulting in a more accurate assessment of their abilities.