October is a big testing month – reducing test anxiety

By Lee Shulman Bierer

October is a big month for testing: the SAT is offered on Saturday Oct. 6 and the ACT is offered on Saturday October 27. Additionally, nearly all high school juniors across the nation will be taking the PSAT on Wednesday Oct. 10 and many other sophomores and juniors will be taking the PLAN  – an early version of the ACT in October as well. The PLAN predicts a student’s performance on the ACT test and also measures academic achievement in English, math, reading, and science.

PSAT scores are typically returned in January. The PSAT will give you a sense of how you’re likely to score on the SAT and for students who do very well, they have the chance to qualify for National Merit awards. The score report will include your total score (from 320-1520), two section scores in Evidence Based Reading and Writing as well as Math (from 160-760), three test scores in Reading, Writing and Language, and Math (from 8-38), as well as several other subscores so you can see how well you did on specific areas of the test.

All this testing can cause a lot of stress. Test anxiety is a real phenomenon. What about the student who studies hard but then freezes during the actual exam? Some students unfortunately and unwittingly believe that a single test has the power to determine their future college dreams, their happiness and their income potential. Don’t believe that, it simply isn’t true.

Jed Applerouth, Founder of Applerouth Tutoring (www.applerouth.com) shares that “test anxiety appears as early as elementary school, becomes more prevalent in high school, and can endure into college, graduate school and beyond. Academic research has found that 61 percent of students will experience test anxiety at some point during high school, and 26 percent of students will experience test-anxiety on a regular basis. Test anxiety is more prevalent today among American students than at any prior time.”

Applerouth explains that certain student populations are more vulnerable to test anxiety, including students with disabilities, attention deficits, and perfectionistic tendencies. Girls are more likely than boys to experience all forms of academic anxiety, including test anxiety.

5 tips to reduce test anxiety

He suggests several steps educators, parents and students can take to try and alleviate test anxiety:

  1. Normalize test anxiety – let students know that we all get anxious about different things; public speaking, flying, meeting new people, remembering names, etc.
  2. Draw skills from other domains of competence. Help students identify areas where they’ve been successful. Ask if they experienced stress there and how they managed it. Adapt those skills to test-taking situations.
  3. Understand the body’s response to anxiety. Once a student identifies a test or exam as a threat, stress hormones are released into the blood stream, the sympathetic nervous system engages, and the body prepares for a fight-flight-freeze-or fold response. Frequently students find they can manger their stress if they understand what is causing it from a neuroscience perspective.
  4. Teach self-regulation. Once activated, the anxiety/stress response can run rampant, or be de-activated by intentional, mindful, focused efforts. Self-regulation is an inside job; it’s an acquired skill, which we tend to develop with age and experience. An individual skilled at self-regulation can quiet the initial activity and reduce the stress response.
  5. Encourage students to write about their test anxiety. Writing about fears and anxieties enhances self-regulation. Research from the University of Chicago reveals that 10 minutes of expressive writing about test anxiety significantly reduces anxiety and improves performance.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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