It’s that sinking feeling in your chest as soon as someone says the word “test.”
It’s knowing you studied and know the material, but looking at the paper in front of you and forgetting everything, maybe even your own name.
Students of all ages, from kindergarten and beyond battle this affliction known as test anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or AADA, text anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, with taking the test being the most difficult part of the whole equation.
Students today take an abundance of tests, from regular classroom assessments to state and national standardized tests.
East Noble School Corporation Superintendent Ann Linson said student stress and anxiety tends to rise throughout the year, and not just around the testing window itself.
“It is compounded by a year-long curriculum and focus on math and language arts skills for the test,” she said. “Our teachers work very had to engage students in quality instruction that has purpose and value; however, it is very difficult to remove ‘test’ from their vocabulary or lesson planning since the success of their students on the test is tied to the teachers’ evaluation.”
Alecia Pfefferkorn is principal at Prairie Heights Elementary School and she said her students took the ISTEP test from Feb. 27 through March 2 and she commented it was nice being able to get the whole test done in the first week of the two-week testing window.
But there’s little time to relax. Beginning March 12, third grade students will then take the IREAD test, another standardized test, giving them little time off between major assessments.
Fremont Elementary School guidance counselor Tiffany Pauley said there is some anxiety for all grade levels, but not as much until about the third grade.
“The younger students are definitely aware of the anxiety and stress the older students face during testing time,” she said.
Because third grade is where she sees the most test anxiety, Pauley has a group that meets to discuss ways of identifying and dealing with the anxiety. In those groups, they discuss the “typical” test-taking tips like crossing out wrong answers, re-reading questions to ensure understanding, getting good sleep the night before and eating healthy.
The groups also go over understanding how the body responds to anxiety in different ways, such as sweating, breathing fast and a having a racing heartbeat. Finally, they discuss strategies that can be used in test-taking situations.
Hamilton middle school student Krysta Mullin is a straight-A student according to her mother, Nichole Whitford, but that doesn’t make Mullin exempt from test anxiety now and then.
Mullin said for some tests she does get anxious, and if she’s at home and able, she’ll study extra and then get some sleep.
If it’s during the test, Mullin turns into a nail biter because it relaxes her and she finds it peaceful.
“She studies a lot and gets super quiet when she is worried,” Whitford said. “She also works hard outside of tests in case she has a bad one. She knows to ask for help if she’s having a problem.”
Prairie Heights High School English teacher Cynthia Jones said when it comes to preparing for tests with her students, especially the ISTEP test, she walks a fine line between helping them be prepared without making them preoccupied with it.
There is a practice test taken for ISTEP which Jones said does take up class time, but lets students see and understand the format of the actual test.
“I think knowing what the test will ‘look like’ can help reduce anxiety/nerves,” she said. “I try to balance being sure they understand the importance of the exam with not allowing it to become overwhelming.
At East Noble, Linson said all the teachers are cognizant of the stress and anxiety testing causes students, so they try to keep the testing “low key” and hold positive conversations about doing their best rather than talking about potential impact of the tests.
Test scores are not a quality indicator of a child’s future success or potential, and that’s something Linson and other educators try to get across to students and parents alike.
Things to help students with test anxiety:
• Don’t talk too much about personal testing experiences, such as saying you were or weren’t a good test taker as it could put added pressure or stress on the student.
• Talk to students about effort not in scores. Use wording such as “do your best” not “get 100 percent.”
• Acknowledge that the test is a big deal, but they’ve been working hard in school to learn all they can to show what they’ve learned, again emphasizing to do your best.
• Keep healthy habits such as a good night’s sleep and a good, healthy breakfast.
• Reach out to a teacher or school counselor if worry about the test still abounds. They may have more strategies to help manage the worries.