Supporting Your Students During Standardized Test Season
Every parent and teacher knows that students’ motivation levels plummet after spring break. Summer break is soooooo close. Even teachers begin running on fumes, and day dream for that moment when the final bell of the year rings.
Yes, April and May are two months that just about everyone at school would rather just dim the lights, lean back, and take a well-deserved nap. This would be a great idea but for one thing:
Standardized test season.
Alas, April and May are two months chocked to the gills full of standardized tests: ACT, SAT, AP, and every state’s 3-8th grade student growth exams. For these two months, public schools turn into test-prep factories.
The debate about the need for all this testing is another article. For now, teachers like you should have the skills to support your students academically and emotionally during this stressful time. In this article we’ll discuss how to support both younger and older students during standardized test season.
For the elementary and middle school-aged crowd, one of the main obstacles in the way of test-day success is short attention span and nervous energy. Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on your point of view) fidget spinners/cubes are banned items during the test. However, there are ways that you can help your students stay focused during standardized tests.
Promote Movement in the Classroom
Nothing helps attention better than short breaks during work. For young students, their attention span is fifteen minutes at best. In your classes, apply these breaks regularly. Lead students in stretching, running in place. On test days, have students perform the same exercises as part of their breaks. This will also have the effect of lightening the test day stress. By following part of an established routine (exercising during breaks), students should feel more comfortable with the testing process.
Track and Reward Progress
Younger students may not comprehend the importance or reasoning behind annual state testing. To increase motivation to do their best, turn test prep sessions into games that include small rewards (e.g. stickers, candy, etc.) based on growth and not always having the right answer. In that way, a low-achieving student who improves can feel the same satisfaction of a high-achieving student who does the same.
Older students, in addition to struggling with short attention span and nervous energy, have more stressors than their younger peers. During the spring semester, the heat is on for high school juniors. ACT/SAT & AP exam season are back to back, and long hours of studying can make even the most dedicated of students feel burnt out and dejected. No matter what course you teach, you can have a positive impact on these stressed-out students.
Let Them Vent
Everyone needs to vent stress, and long as your students can do it without cursing, encourage them to come to you if they want to vent. By letting them speak openly, you have the opportunity to offer solutions.
“When first you don’t succeed…”
It’s likely that most of your students will not meet their score goal the first time they take the ACT/SAT. Though this is perfectly normal, a low score can still feel like a monumental defeat to a student, especially one who studied for weeks leading up to the test. To raise their spirits and keep their head in the game, it always helps to discuss a past time when you failed at something. Though students’ moods may not improve overnight, they should know that they’re not the only one.
Soothe the AP Jitters
If you teach at a school that offers multiple AP courses, you’ve likely noticed that your students take on a different personality during the first week of May. The phrase ‘1000-yard stare’ comes to mind. In all seriousness, AP exam week can cause a higher level of stress than what some students have ever experienced. Even if you don’t teach AP courses, there is still a way that you can help: have students’ back. Well in advance of AP exam week, learn which of your students are enrolled in APs. As exam week approaches, either take the time to speak to students one on one or address your classes as a whole. Random acts of kindness (e.g. donuts for a class filled with AP students) will remind them that people recognize all of their hard work.
Stress is a natural part of life, and standardized test season seems to bring out a lot of it in our nation’s children. There are many simple things that you can do to support your students and help them succeed. Beyond the information in this article, it always helps to ask other teachers at your school for advice.
As a high school English and social studies teacher, Thomas Broderick developed a test prep course that helped his students earn over $500,000 in college scholarships. Now a freelance writer and consultant in the education field, he is happy to share his wisdom with students and teachers. You can contact Thomas through his website.