5 simple ways to help students with test anxiety

High-pressure exams may be a necessary evil, but there are scientific ways that we can help students prepare for them and show up on test-day feeling more confident, writes Judy Willis, a neurologist and curriculum consultant, for Edutopia

There is no getting away from tests for students. But Willis says the anxiety created by exams can affect students' performance on them. The stress creates an extra layer of difficulty when they attempt to store and retrieve information, such as facts for a history exam or equations for a math exam.

Stress is a major barrier to college completion and learning, research has found, and anxiety among college students has steadily risen since 2009.

The key word is mindset, Willis argues. The attitude that a student has toward the exam or the subject will influence, in no small way, how they approach the exam and ultimately how they perform on it.

Willis suggests a few ways to help students manage/relieve stress:

  1. Make fun of your own experience with exam anxiety. Making students laugh will activate the release of dopamine in their brains. This will increase memory function and motivation, both of which come in handy when preparing for an exam.
  2. Have students recall small past mistakes—and how they fixed them. In order to avoid common errors on the exam, students need to remember ones they made on homework and other assignments. This can include mistakes like not reading questions carefully, forgetting to check their answers on math problems, or even choosing an answer before considering every option.
  3. Start the exam by having them create a cheat sheet. Use the first few minutes of the exam to have students write down critical information like formulas and charts. This will allow them to focus on each question at hand instead of trying to hold on to important facts throughout the exam.
  4. Encourage students to envision themselves doing well. Creating a positive mental picture of themselves doing well on the exam will put them more at ease. It will also help activate memory retrieval.
  5. Remind them of exam strategies you've discussed with them previously. Successfully recalling past test strategies will boost their memory of other exam-specific information.

(Willis, Edutopia, 4/7)

Everyone on campus has a stake in helping students manage stress

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