Battling Test Anxiety

test anxiety, homeschoolingUpset stomach, sweaty palms, shakiness, insomnia, feeling faint, stiff muscles, and… failure. These are the common symptoms of test anxiety. For reasons unknown to many, children across all cultures, sex, and age suffer from this issue. For some, these issues can be extremely detrimental – even resulting in failure. The difficult part of it all is that it isn’t a specified disability, and it is quite a surmounting task to get a teacher or educational official to believe your child has these issues.

Here are a few tips to doing away with test anxiety…

1. Don’t allow your grades to be a measure of yourself. Realize that your worth is independent from a letter of the alphabet.

2. Work on memory skills – use nmenonics (no that’s not a dirty word). It simply means to use devices to help you remember things – whether it is pictures or silly sayings. Use what works!

3. Work on study skills – everyone needs to learn the proper way to study. For each person that way may be different. So, it’s very important to understand what enables you to assimilate knowledge. For many people writing is a way of study, for others repeating things outloud, still others use flashcards. Find your niche!

4. Of course… BEGIN STUDYING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Never wait to the last minute to study. This will definitely make you feel more confident and prepared.

5. Stay positive… a negative attitude is detrimental to any effort. When your mind begins to drift to negative thoughts, stop yourself and say something positive.

6. Stay focused, don’t allow distractions to get you nervous. Don’t pay attention to the others around you that are taking the test, and don’t get frustrated if everyone finishes first. Just focus on your test. If you find it difficult to focus – don’t think – write. When you read a test question write your answers down as soon as possible.

7. Eat healthy and lite before a test. I also swear by bananas as a brain food!

8. Don’t use caffeinated energy drinks or medications to keep you awake studying the night before. Caffeine is actually a stress inducer. Instead,

9. Drink a tall glass of water and go to bed early!

10. Dress and make yourself as comfortable as possible on the day of the test. Wear comfortable shoes, for girls, tie your hair back… whatever it takes to enable you to have complete focus on that test!

Getting Ready for the ACT / SAT test

Preparing your child for college isn’t an easy task. In fact, preparing for the college entrance SAT or ACT test is a feat in and of itself! We are facing that uphill battle right now. My daughter is in eleventh grade, and just took the ACT as a practice run. It definitely opened our eyes to several things. I knew we needed to be preparing in advance, but I didn’t know just how we measured up.  Taking the test early is a great help in planning your final college preparations.  Here are a few things that we are trying to put into practice, and a few things that we are learning along the way!

1) Begin preparations early. Plan your high school courses to meet your preferred colleges’ requirements.  At our house, we are depending on scholarships. In turn, scholarships depend on the ACT / SAT score. So, (no stress) a good test score will really help in this area.

2) Don’t be afraid to take the test several times. You can take each of these tests several times, we chose to take the ACT as practice this past month. We also elected to NOT send the scores to any colleges. This test this time -was just for our information only. We will review the scores, do some practice and then retake it for REAL!

3) Begin test prep a year in advance. Begin reviewing ACT SAT vocabulary and essay strategies well in advance. Don’t think that you can prepare for this test a few weeks before you take it!

4) Use a test prep book or an online test prep. I use A Major Tests.com for my tutoring sessions. This site has great vocabulary prep, good practice tests, essay prompts, and even some great strategy tips.

5) Become an avid reader. Readers are learners…  the more you read the better you will test.

To be honest, I really don’t agree with how our country bases everything on “test” scores. Yet, to successfully navigate these high school/college waters we have to fit in this box… no matter how tight or disagreeable we find it!

Making a Great Test

Having pre-made tests are great, but that option isn’t always available. Homeschoolers, even though we need to be using alternative means of assessment… often have to make their own tests. It really isn’t a difficult thing to do, but there are a few things you should always keep in mind when designing your own test.

  1. A test should always cover what was learned in the lessons. This means that if you use goals and objectives, your test should cover those exact objectives. Never pull test questions out of thin air, this isn’t fair to the tester.
  2. The best type of test is the essay test. This test requires the tester to completely pull all knowledge from their own resources.
  3. Tests should typically be a variety of questions.
  4. Tests should not be repetetive. Don’t repeat questions. Don’t give away answers with nonsensical options.
  5. Don’t ask only simple rote memory questions. Make sure that your questions build in the Cognitive learning domain. Begin with rote memory questions that test the facts, then move to questions that make students analyze what they have learned, then the students to synthesize the knowledge and facts, and then finally ask questions (such as essay ) that require them to evaluate and apply what they have learned.

Fair and Balanced Assessment

For decades, people have debated if it was good to depend on paper pencil tests to determine a child’s achievement. The battle is still raging. In schools, they are caught between making the teacher accountable to actually teach, and measuring the student’s progress. Their solution has been to rely on high stakes testing to determine both of these. Yet, with this move, they have hurt many children who just don’t test well, and others who have possibly had a bad day when the tests were given. In addition to this the children taking the tests are pretty stressed out. In many cases, these tests determine if the child will be promoted to the next grade.

Homeschoolers, on the other hand, have a wide open opportunity to make sure they are getting a balanced picture of their student’s assessment. A true balanced assessment plan will inclue performance assessments, projects, papers, and tests. Homeschool parents are motivated to make sure their own child is learning, so high stakes testing is a non-issue. Yet, standardized tests are still often a homeschool requirement for some states in America. When this is the case parents should never put too much emphasis on these tests. They should not be the sole determinant if the child is learning.  These tests can be useful to tell parents exactly where their children may have gaps. They can even use these tests to tell them what areas should be focused on in the coming school year.

I can understand where states are coming from in requiring some type of standard measurement. Though homeschooling families are for the most part a dilligent and dependable lot, there are those who really don’t make an effort to encourage their children to excel. These children pay the price for that with a sub par education. Taking a standardized test every couple of years, will at least alert the parent to that fact if they are ignorant of their negligence.

Still a balanced education rich with real world context application is what each child needs. An overemphasis on testing will cause our children to begin cramming facts for tests that will only disappear a short  while after the test is completed. Consequently, this will make a large part of their education a waste of time. Making children perform activities to show they have learned something, and even putting together projects and research papers can demonstrate a proficiency that will last in their memories much longer than factoids crammed in for tests.

Preparing for the SAT

Students all over the country get the opportunity to stress out over a single test during their eleventh and twelfth grade years. Most of the time, they don’t even start preparing for the test until a couple of weeks prior to the test date. As a tutor, I see this time and time again. They call me for last minute preparations, when they should have been preparing since ninth grade. Basically, they are expecting me to work a miracle that they were to lazy to attempt years ago.

Truth is, preparation for the SAT or ACT tests should begin many years before you actually take the test. Students in high school should have the goal of attaining college preparation in their studies. With this in mind, students should examine their high school work to be sure that they are meeting the requirements.

There are a few basic questions you can ask to determine if you are preparing your high school student properly for these tests.

  • Have you been prescribing a challenging spelling/vocabulary program for your student since 9th grade? You can use awesome tools like Spelling and Vocabulary City to make this easy.  Students should be stretching themselves with each new spelling list. I like to use Major Tests spelling lists as well. Remember, spelling and vocabulary preparation is a sizeable part of the ACT and SAT tests.
  • Have your students been writing clear concise essays? The introduction of the essay should occur at least by ninth grade – I prefer earlier. Summing up essay writing into just a few simple steps: Plan for 5 paragraphs-one introduction - 2 or 3 body points/paragraphs – and one conclusion that restates your 3 body points. An essay should be written from a given theme or question statement. The essay should also be able to be written within 25 minutes, using example from literature, history, and personal life.
  • Are you challenging yourself with math courses? Don’t skimp on math preparation. The SAT and ACT tests mainly use questions from geometry and Algebra II. If your student thought they would take the easy road and just do basic math or accounting they will not score as high as they could have if they challenged themselves in this area. Yes, math can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. There are lots of great math tutorials that will help get these difficult points across.
  • Is your student consistently reading and reading critically? By the time a student reaches high school they should be avid readers. Yet, not just readers but readers that analyze what they are reading and think about underlying themes and motives as well as plot projections. Encourage them to THINK while they read.