Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Boost Test Scores, Not Test Anxiety

Stress is not the answer.
In an article I wrote earlier this month, published on the Today's Parent website,  I discussed three simple strategies for boosting elementary school standardized test scores without boosting test anxiety. Here's a quick summary in case you don't have time for the full article:

1. Have honest conversations about the test.
That means talking to kids about what the test really means, what happens if they don't pass, and listening to kids talk about the test so you can correct any misconceptions. Positive thinking is not an honest conversation. Threats aren't honest conversation, either. It is also highly unethical (not to mention painfully counterproductive) to suggest that teachers will lose their jobs if kids don't pass the test, but these kind of empty threats are rampant these days.

2. Engage in expressive writing.
The research is clear on this one. Letting kids vent about the test through expressive writing actually boosts test scores and decreases testing anxiety. In a culture obsessed with positive thinking, we tend to think that letting off steam and being a little negative is a horrible thing, but the reality is that it is therapeutic and it helps kids process their emotions.

3. Create a classroom culture that embraces mistakes.
Studies suggest that allowing kids to struggle and make mistakes actually improves learning and boosts test scores. This means mistakes need to be anticipated and embraced as a friend, not an enemy, in the classroom. I tell my students at the beginning of the year that I love it when they make mistakes, because it gives me the chance to do what I love to do: teach.  It also helps me correct an issue that would otherwise get in the way of their success in the future. I create a classroom culture that embraces mistakes, talks calmly about failure, and focuses more on hard work and effort than on perfect accuracy.

We need to remember that no matter how stressed we are about the tests, we have no right to pass that stress down to our students. Stress and threats have an adverse effect on learning, so it really has no place in the classroom.

Kumar Sathy is the author of the award-winning Chicken Nugget Man Series of Educational Children's Fiction Books and blogger for BeyondTestPrep.com. You can follow him on twitter @KumarSathy for more unconventional tips on a variety of topics, including elementary school test prep strategies.  Feel free to comment on this post or raise any questions or concerns below.

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