“Relax, It’s Only A Test”—My Article In The Latest Issue of TIME

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I have an article in the latest issue of Time magazine (on the stands today) about test anxiety: how it affects students’ academic performance, and how to make it go away. Here’s the opening:

“The sophomore sat paralyzed as the minutes ticked by. One hour later, time was up for the exam in a statistics class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and he turned in his work: it was completely blank, save for his name.

As any parent or teacher knows, tests can create crippling anxiety in students, and anxious kids can perform below their true abilities. But new research in cognitive science and psychology is giving us a clearer understanding of the link between stress and performance and allowing experts to develop specific strategies for helping kids manage their fears.

These potential solutions are reasonably simple, inexpensive and, as recent studies show, effective. Some work for a broad range of students, while others target specific groups. Yet they’re unfamiliar to many teachers and parents, who remain unaware that test anxiety can be so easily relieved.”

The full article isn’t available online, but I hope if it’s of interest to you that you’ll pick up a copy at the newsstand.

In the meantime—have you ever suffered from test anxiety? What brought it on, and what did you do to quell your nervousness?

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5 Responses to ““Relax, It’s Only A Test”—My Article In The Latest Issue of TIME”

  1. Debbie Stier says:

    I found a really good book — AFTER I took 7 SATs, called Test Success! by Ben Bernstein, Ph.D. It has really good exercises to recognize test anxiety (I didn’t realize I had it, but I did) and to overcome it.

    In a word: Breathe…..

    Anxiety is not good for the brain!

  2. Barry Kort says:

    I used to tutor mathematics at the college level. My standard practice was to tutor by the Socratic Method, which means most of the time I was asking carefully crafted questions to lead the student to build their knowledge of the topic a step at a time. By asking just the right questions, at just the right moment, in just the right order, the student’s emotional state was not one of paralyzing anxiety, but a sense of steady incremental progress, often culminating in an “Aha!” experience as things finally became clear in their mind.

  3. Lewis Hall says:

    A good friend, a professor of chemistry, told me of the routine he had before and during a test. He would get three new pencils and sharpen them precisely. Then when given the test, he would pick up a pencil and mentally say to the pencil, “let’s see what you can do.” Then he would go through the test as quickly as he could filling in every obvious answer. When finished he would put that pencil aside and tell it that it had done a good job but he had gotten all the answers he could from that pencil. Then he would pick up a new pencil and start again from the beginning, working through the test. He never needed to use the third pencil. My friend said that this routine would put the responsibility onto the pencils and not himself. Of course he did well.

  4. Matt Renwick says:

    Thank you for writing about this topic Annie. I have shared your posts often with my educator colleagues.

    As I read, some questions came to mind:
    - Why are we administering exams that create anxiety in the first place? Do the benefits outweigh the effects? Who benefits?
    - How much learning time is lost with the addition of these interventions to reduce anxiety? (Learning time is already reduced due to standardized testing.)
    - Even if we can mitigate the anxiety created by these tests, are we getting a truly valid and reliable measure of what our students know and are able to do?
    - A multitude of studies show a positive correlation with formative assessment and improved student learning (see: McTighe, Wiggins, Guskey, Fisher, Wiliams, Marzano). What would happen if the 1.6 billion dollars were reallocated toward using formative assessment as our preferred method of measuring student learning?
    - How might these distant, standardized tests negatively affect relationships and trust between the teacher and their students?

    I know that this is not the focus of what you wrote and I don’t expect you or anyone to change the current testing climate any time soon. I am just curious about your broader perspective regarding high stakes testing as a whole.

  5. Judy Lundy says:

    Good point Matt – what are we really testing with these anxiety producing assessments? Ability to cope with stress, ability to cram information into short term or working memory but not long term memory? Poor validity to start with so let’s get rid of them as far as possible – there are almost always alternatives.

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