Does your child’s report card really reflect test anxiety Part 2

  Now that Test Anxiety has been identified, it is now important to present ways to alleviate test anxiety.  One good way is to teach proper study habits. All too often teachers tend to focus all their attention to the subject matter and fail to teach the skills needed to remember the information during. Therefore, many students are ill equipped to take the test because they have not learned the tricks needed to remember the material.  Another problem may be that students simply do not take the time to study. In either case, the lack of preparation is a major cause of test anxiety. A recent study suggested that many different study skills are important to students’ achievement. The most important skills were the ones that facilitated higher levels of thinking, thus insuring that students were processing the information learned in class. The same study further indicated that many teachers did not have full understanding of effective skills themselves. Thus, they were unable to educate students in proper study skills (Thorpe, 2010). Walker & Schmidt (2004) stated that “students need a process for studying”. Students need instruction on “specific strategies” they can use to review material for test. These strategies also must appeal to different styles of learners.

First students need to know what to study; the following items can help with this effort. Providing a study guide is always a good idea. A study guide should state the purpose and also give the format and content of the test (Walker & Schmidt, 2004). The guide should list possible topics, especially essay topics as this will give students the opportunity to practice writing the essay. Another good idea is to have students work in groups to predict what items might be on the test, and maybe quiz each other on the answers. Teachers can use this opportunity to use games and other activities to review the material (Salend, 2010; Walter & Schmidt, 2004).

Along with knowing what to study comes how to study it. Walter & Schmidt (2004) gave several good suggestions to this aim. First they stated that teachers should encourage students to highlight the most important areas of the text. Unfortunately since most textbooks are state owned, student are likely not allowed to mark in the text books. Teachers should, then photocopy portions of the text so that students can highlight them at will. Another suggestion was to make up a Jeopardy type game where the students would use test terms and make jeopardy questions about them. Still another method is the use of flash cards.  There are as many study methods as one could possibly think of.  The important thing is that teachers should go over these methods with students and consistently provide them with opportunity to use them. The idea is to be creative with ideas, that way studying becomes less of a chore and more of something students enjoy, thus creating less anxiety.

Now that study skills have been addressed, what skills can students use to effectively take tests? First students should realize that there are basically two types of tests they can expect to encounter, recognition, and integration (reword as recognize, and integrate) (Rozalski, 2008).  Recognition tests are basically tests which have the correct answer somewhere in the testing prompt. Examples of recognition tests include: multiple choice, matching, and true and false. Rozalski & Yell (2008) suggests that teachers instruct and or post the following mnemonic “DREAMS” when dealing with recognition type tests.

  • Directions should be read carefully
  • Read all answers before committing to one
  • Easy questions should be answered first
  • Absolute qualifiers (e.g. no, none, never, only, all, always) are usually false
  • Mark questions as you read them, (i.e., cross out completed ones and place a star next to harder ones you want to look at again)
  • Similar and absurd options can often be eliminated.

Integration tests (fill in the blank, short answers, and essays) require students to remember and “integrate” the information (Rozalski, 2008). For integration test students need to be aware of certain key terms that will help the student understand the directions and how much information they will be expected to provide. For example terms such as compare, or contrast indicate that students will have to deal with two or more concepts. Words like define, outline, or state will likely involve shorter answers whereas words like explain, discuss, or summarize will likely involve longer answers.

Regardless of the type of test posed to students Rozalski (2008) goes on to suggest that students need to be organized in their approach to testing or else these test- taking strategies will be ineffective.  Students with emotional and behavioral problems will likely not develop these strategies on their own so it is important that teachers be ready to include these strategies in their lesson plans.

The use of relaxation strategies is also a good way to reduce test anxiety. Imagine this scenario: Student A walks into the classroom a few minutes early. Student A is already anxious about the test. As the student begins to converse with her classmates, they begin to ask her about which items on the test she studied. During this conversation she becomes increasingly aware of portions of the test content in which she may be deficient. Her anxiety begins to mount as the teacher begins to hand out the test. Before Student A even begins the first question, she is already a nervous wreck. It is suggested that students with anxiety problems actually enter the classroom on time rather than early, that way they have less time to compare notes with their classmates. Another way to counteract this problem is to engage entering students in activities which will prepare students for the pending test such as having them list terms that might appear on the test or anything that might help a student focus on what he or she does know, instead of has forgotten. Also, teachers should direct students in taking deep breaths and perhaps do some exercises that relieve tension (Salend, 2010).

Teachers should also be careful when using fear appeals. Fear appeals dwell on the consequences of failing a test. Since the advent of NCLB ( No Child Left Behind) mauch of emphasis has been placed on standardized testing. Every day the news media releases another story of school district failing standardized test. In many states, passing high-stakes tests are imperative for graduation. Therefore, there is a lot of pressure on both teachers, administrators and especially students to do well on these tests. It would easy then to want to use the fear of failure to motivate students to take these tests seriously. Research indicates that some use of fear appeals is good in that it does seem to motivate students to improve to some degree; however, in those students who experience high test anxiety, it may actually be setting these students up to fail by increasing their fear of failure (Putwain & Symes, 2011).

Finally, Teachers should consider a range of scoring methods and be creative in the ways they evaluates students. One way to do this is to possibly give partial credit to correct aspects of answers instead of simply marking the whole response wrong, or give partial credit if students can demonstrate the thinking behind the answers given.  If students are not necessarily being tested for grammar, consider not scoring for grammar or separating the score between content and mechanics. One should also note that the traditional test is not always the best way to evaluate students’ knowledge. Consider finding activities and projects which will allow students to show off their knowledge in a particular unit without the intimidating setting of an test, and weight these activities equally with tests when grading (Salend, 2010). Also studies have shown that computer based test also greatly reduce anxiety in students who show high anxiety in paper based tests. As opportunities for computerized testing are now increasing this may well be a good alternative for anxious students. One needs to be careful, however, as the same studies show that computerized tests may actually increase anxiety in students who do well on paper based tests (Stowell & Bennett, 2010).

There are a myriad of other ways parents, teachers and administrators can help students reduce test-anxiety. The purpose of this paper is to give attention to the problem of test anxiety, and highlight some of the most common ways to alleviate it. Again, tests and grades are deemed so important to our cultural psychology.  The key, unfortunately, for students’ success in schools lies not in how much they learn, to a large extent. Rather, it  lies in students ability to play “the game of testing.” As long as the current system is in place, teachers, administrators, and parents need to do everything they can to make sure students can play the game successfully. One huge way to do that is to relieve test anxiety.

So we’ve attacked the problem of test anxiety, now if we could only crack the recipe for the famous Krabby Patty.

References

Cassady, J. C. (2010). Test anxiety: Contemporary theories and implications for learning.  In J. C. Cassady (Ed.), Anxiety in schools: The causes, consequences, and solutions for  academic anxieties (pp. 7-26). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Cizek, G. J., & Burg, S. S. (2006). Addressing test anxiety in a high-stakes environment: Strategies for classrooms and schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: CorwinPress.

Dorland, S. (2010). Exam stress? No worries! Milton, Queensland: Wrightbooks

Heiman, T, & Precel, K. (2003). Students with learning disabilities in higher education:     Academic strategies profile. Joumal of Leaming Disabilities. 36. 248-258. doi: 10.1177/002221940303600304

Huberty, T. J. (2009). Test and performance anxiety. Principal Leadership. JO(1), 12-16.

Putwain, D. W. (2010). Teachers’ use of fear appeals in the Mathematics classroom: Worrying or motivating students? British Journal of Educational Psychology. 81,  456-474

Rozalski, M. E. (2007). Practice, practice, practice; How to improve students’ study skills.  Beyond Behavior. 17[\]. 17-23.

Salend, S. J. & Symes, W.(2011). Addressing Test Anxiety. Teaching Exceptional Children. Vol; 44, No. 2, 58-68

Stowell, J. R. & Bennett, D. (2010). Effects of online testing on student exam performance and test anxiety. J. Educational Computing Research Vol. 42(2) 161-171.

Thorpe,C.  (2010). Promoting Academic Achievement in the Middle School Classroom: Integrating EffectiveStudySkills Instruction. Online Submission. 1-33.

Walker C, & Schmidt, E. (2004). Smart tests: Teacher-made tests that help students learn. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

 Yell, M. L., & Rozalski, M. E. (2008). Academic interventions: Effective instruction. In M. Yell,  N.Meadows, E. Drasgow, & J.Shriner (Eds.), Educating students withemotional and behavioral disorders ingeneral and special education classrooms (pp. 282-335). Upper  Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson Education.

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