Nothing can put stress on a student like a test, and state standardized tests can only amplify this feeling. These tests just seem bigger and more important. Your student may not understand the function of standardized tests (to help give the state a picture of their school’s effectiveness) but they can easily pick up on the importance teachers place on them. In order to be prepared for these tests, your student will need more than just a sharpened number two pencil. There are things you can help your child do before and during a test to alleviate stress and maximize performance.
First things first: if your student is stressed out, it’s not really a bad thing. This is natural and it shows that he or she is taking the situation seriously. Overstress, however, can be an issue. If there are other contributing factors to stress level, such as family issues or social situations, they should be addressed as best as possible. Basically, you should do what is needed to give your child a clear, unobstructed mind frame when entering the test-taking situation. This includes sleep and nutrition. A student should have a good helping of both before the test. Many studies have been done relating sleep to brain power. Lack of sleep can hurt the ability to think clearly. Also, hunger can be a distraction when attempting to focus on a test.
Since these tests assess such a wide range of material, there is no easy way to study content. What a student can and should study is the test format. This can be done through exposure to sample tests or past tests that have been released. Standardized tests are different than tests given in the classroom and usually involve a scantron (the slip of paper with the bubbles to fill in). It is important that a student is familiar with how to transfer their answers to the scantron. If he or she is not, it just increases the likelihood of a question being marked wrong despite the student knowing the correct answer. For example, if a child mistakenly uses the spot for question 4 on the scantron to mark their answer for question 5 in the test booklet, each following answer marked on the scantron could correspond to the question after it. The worst thing to see is a child’s grade suffer due to factors other than content knowledge. Also, if your child is confused with the directions on a standardized test, make sure he or she knows that it is ok to ask a teacher about this. Of course teachers can’t help with the test content, but they can clarify directions and show students what needs to be done.
While taking the test, time management is important. There is no prize for finishing first! A student should always know how much time is left and use it efficiently either to work or check answers. Though finishing early is not ideal, a bigger problem is running out of time. A student should not allow a single question to take up too much time. If the answer is not known, an educated guess is appropriate. Standardized tests at the elementary, middle school, and high school level very rarely penalize for a wrong answer. An answer left blank is equal to a wrong answer, so it makes sense to at least try. Show your child how to eliminate answers that are most likely not correct. This way, they can choose from a smaller pool of possible answers. If two answers are very similar, it is likely that neither one is correct. If two answers are opposites, there is a good chance that one of them is right.
It could also be a good idea to plan something fun with your student for when the test is done. This may help them view the test in a more positive way. A small reward such as an ice cream or movie could be an appropriate reward for a job well done.
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