Every educator wants to see their students succeed – both in school and beyond. We do our best to help them grow while fostering a mindset of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. However, at some point every student must be assessed on what they’ve learned, and this can lead to problems. After a school year full of promising effort and growth, students frequently stumble on the standardized tests.
This “Know-Show Gap” can prevent teachers and schools from demonstrating the good work they do to the public. Worse, it can undermine student confidence and keep them from persevering in the face of adversity. These tests have real consequences, so it’s important to do what we can to minimize that Know-Show gap and help students demonstrate what they’ve learned. Test-taking is a skill. It requires practice, preparation, and mindfulness, just like every other skill. For students to perform well on their tests, it’s important for educators to show students how they should take them. I’ve found that small adjustments in a student’s environment or mindset can have a huge impact on their overall testing experience.
For instance, it’s good to make sure your students are physically prepared to take the test. We all know that keeping students in their seats for long periods of time can stifle their ability to think and lead to distractions. Stretching exercises can improve blood flow and can help energize students to maintain stamina through a long testing block. Additionally, providing students with a small snack that is low on the glycemic index can give them the mental fuel they need to perform their best.
Minimizing distractions is also vital, especially noise. While some people may prefer to work with music or sound, very few people actually benefit. Unnecessary noise interrupts focus, so make your testing environment as quiet as possible. If students have access to noise-canceling headphones it could help them maintain their quiet and concentration.
Still, a rich environment won’t help students much if they haven’t prepared mentally. For this, start with a good, old-fashioned brain dump. A week prior to a standardized test, have students record as much as they can remember about what they’re about to be tested on. Have them write this out by hand — handwriting helps solidify knowledge in the memory. Once this is finished, students should examine a partner’s list and discuss what they wrote. Reviewing content together can be a powerful way to reinforce it in students’ minds.
Lastly, when reviewing, cover different topics in different areas. This helps students combat that pesky “tip-of-the-tongue” phenomenon by remembering where they were when they learned or reviewed something.
Standardized tests can be hard on students. Many of us still remember the frustration and anxiety we endured when we were younger and in their shoes. The good news is we can show them how to face their fears and overcome whatever obstacles they face. With a little preparation, students won’t just survive, they’ll thrive.
Ben Talsma is a Learning Solution Specialist for Van Andel Institute for Education, a Michigan-based education nonprofit dedicated to creating classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive.
The Principal’s Desk was founded by Dr. David Franklin. Dr. Franklin is an award winning school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, published author and presenter at national and international education conferences. He is also the co-author of “Can Every School Succeed” and the upcoming release: “Advice From The Principal’s Desk”.