Too Scared to Think
A test can be an opportunity for a student to show off just how much she has learned. Or it can be an opportunity for your course grade to plummet or for your high stakes testing to throw you into the pool of students who need an alternative path.
Test anxiety is a very real condition. People who are afflicted with it can see the work of an entire semester go down the tube in one two-hour period. Tests really don’t do a good job of measuring how much we know, and students with test anxiety are set up for failure.
We are living in an era when the common wisdom is that standardized tests raise the teaching/learning standard. That means there is an increasing number of high stakes testing experiences.
There are things teachers can do to alleviate some of the issues. First of all, prior to the test experience, give students examples of what the test items are going to be like. Allow kids to answer questions and to question the questions. Let them break into groups and work out problems together. If the test is multiple choice, before the test give the students some multiple-choice items on the topic and lead them through the process of figuring out how to pick the correct answer from the several detractors. Directly teach the strategy for eliminating one or more of the detractors and narrowing the field down to the correct answer.
If the test has true/false items, directly teach the children how to look for “red-alert” words such as “never”, “always” and other always words.
When the test experience is over, review the test with the class. Ask students to tell you what they answered and why they did. For items a student got wrong, walk them through the process to get it right.
Some people will tell you that is cheating. That attitude always confuses me. If the point of testing is to discover what the child knows about a topic as opposed to tricking the child, why is it cheating to help the child have the best shot of showing what they know. I once had a teacher tell me that she knew in advance of any test which students would do well and who would not. I couldn't figure out what the point was of giving the test.
Of course, there is one more question to ask. If we know that there are some humans who have such great test anxiety that they literally can’t think straight on a test- why are we still giving them tests? Could it be that we are too scared to think of another option to measure learning besides a written test? Something to think about.