There’s little argument that state testing is a nerve-racking experience for students who could really use an injection of calm to keep it all together. Whether they’re taking the PARCC, STAAR, SOLs, Smarter Balanced common-core-aligned test or something else entirely, testing week can bring on a whole lot of anxiety.
Sure, by high school, students are more familiar with the strict environment of test conditions, but even so, the pressure remains. For younger students, especially third-grade students who have never taken a state test before, the change in environment, the apparent “lack of help” from their teachers, and the duration of the exams can all feel hugely overwhelming.
There’s ample research that shows test anxiety can have as much of an impact on test scores as students’ actual grasp of a particular concept, and the growing number of standardized tests kids face these days has been linked pretty directly to an increase in —you guessed it — test anxiety!
With this in mind, and knowing it’s not possible (just yet!!!) to ditch the test altogether in most states, we’ve put together a little list of things you can do on test days to help your students find calm.
How to Make State Testing Days Less Intimidating
1. Make State Testing Days a ‘Happy Teacher Outfit Day’
No matter where in the school your students will be taking the test, state testing conditions will feel noticeably different for them. With all pictures, posters, and stimuli removed from the walls and maybe even desks moved around, there’s a certain ‘vibe’ that students will notice as soon as they enter the room.
One of the best ideas we can share is to help your students identify a brain break point they can look at when they are feeling stressed or worried during the test.
As their teacher, you have already built up a rapport with your students — they seek comfort in you! Maximize this by wearing something bright, playful, and happy on the test days. While this might seem superficial at first glance, tell your students that they can look at your flower crown, your smiley face emoji t-shirt, or rainbow shoes as a reminder that they are okay, that you believe in them, and that if their mind is smiling the test will feel easier!
2. Create a Positivity Walk
While it would be amazing to fill the examination room with positivity posters and growth mindset prompts, most administrators and testing coordinators will give it a thumbs down. So, why not create a positivity walk along the space that students travel to and from the exam room?
You could use some of our positivity posters, our growth mindset pennant banners, and other colorful decorations like paper honeycombs or lanterns that you can buy at a party supply store or dollar store. The aim of the game is to make your students feel positive and happy as they are entering (and exiting) their test space.
Tip: Include their names, photos, or an avatar of each of your students to really reinforce that this positivity walk belongs to them!
3. Help Your Students Own the Test Space
If possible, take your students into their testing space prior to the beginning of testing. This will give you time to run a short guided meditation/mindful awareness practice with them. Ask your students to take their seats (preferably their exact seat for the tests), and take them through one or more of the following points:
Finding a Mindful Brain Break Spot
- Looking around the room, what looks different than usual? How does it make you feel?
- Can you find somewhere you can look that makes you feel relaxed? Can you see a bit of the garden, a tree, or the sky through one of the windows? Remember, if you are feeling stressed or worried during the test, you can look at this point and take a deep belly breath to help calm your mind.
- This room might look and feel a bit different than usual, but this room belongs to you. In this room, you can be calm and confident, because you will always have a spot to rest your mind when you need a little break!
A Calm and Confident Test Visualization
- Close your eyes, or look down towards your desk. Without speaking, imagine that the test has begun.
- You can see your test booklet sitting in front of you. You are holding your pencil in your hand. The room is quiet, and you can feel the concentration of all of your friends in the room too. It’s so quiet that you might even hear the clock tick! Someone has the sniffles. Someone else taps their pencil on their desk for a little while.
- Maybe you’re feeling a little nervous. The exam room feels and sounds different than usual. Maybe your chest feels a little tight, or your heart feels like it’s beating a little faster than usual.
- Take a slow, deep breath. When you breathe in, make the air fill your belly, right down deep. When you breathe out, feel the air as it moves out of your lungs completely. Notice the tight feeling from your chest go away. Your heartbeat slows down. You feel calm and confident.
- Having to take the real state test might feel like a big deal. And that might make you feel nervous or worried. But you know that you can stop at any point and calm your mind down just by using your breath. You are doing your best. If you skip a question, that’s okay. If you’re not sure you understand a question, that’s okay, too.
- Just try your best! Stop, close your eyes, and take a deep breath when you need to. And you finish the test!
- Imagine now that the test session has finished. Your teacher picks up all of the tests. Later in the day you find your friends and talk about what bits you found confusing and hear that they found some parts difficult too! But you all finished the test, you did your best, and now you can smile, you can laugh, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon!
4. Plan Mindful Movement Breaks
Plan a few fun, physical activities that students can do before, during, and after their state tests across the two days. Brain science tells us that the benefits of movement are pretty clear. Physical movement makes it:
- easier for our brain to maintain focus
- helps us to integrate learning across both of our brain’s hemispheres
- helps to enter information into our memories
- reduces the chances of feeling overwhelmed or overloaded.
So, plan calm movement activities before and during the test sessions, and fun, stress-releasing activities for after!
Calm Activities for Before and During Test Sessions
Fun Movement Activities for After Test Sessions
5. Give a Little Gift of Confidence
Testing Encouragement Certificates can help boost students’ sense of confidence. While your students can’t have their certificates on their desks with them during testing, we all know that these little tokens of encouragement can mean a lot!
- Print enough for every student in your class.
- If you have time, write a little personalized message of encouragement on the back of each one.
- Attach a small gift to each of the certificates, something like a cute pencil or eraser they can use on the test.
- Place them on your students’ desks before they enter the room on the first morning of testing.