Test Anxiety in Elementary Students and How to Help

Test anxiety is real. Many elementary teachers discover that even when kids have mastered a certain concept, sometimes a number of them will still perform poorly on a test. The truth is that some kids aren’t as well equipped to handle test pressures as others. Poor concentration and general fears can be some of the reasons behind a student’s inability to consistently perform well on all types of exams.

As a teacher, what are some strategies that you can implement to help ease students’ test stress?

First, it’s helpful to think about what types of tests are producing the most anxiety. For example, certain kids study spelling words all week and learn how to correctly repeat the words back during homework time, but then freeze up during the actual test. Other students may be confident about knowing their math facts, but are unable to write them quickly during the typical timed math fact exams.

So, if the standard elementary school math and spelling tests are causing strife in your classroom, what are some alternative options?

In terms of spelling tests, one way to alleviate the test day nervousness is to offer a choice. For instance, hand out a spelling list on Friday and let the kids know the regular, pencil-and-paper test will happen the following Friday. This gives kids a whole week to study. Then, give the students the chance to take an online spelling test earlier in the week.

Use the Spelling City app to administer the same spelling test on a tablet. Supervise the test but consider permitting the students to find their own place in the classroom or even out in the hallway. An anxious student may feel less stressed about the spelling test when he or she is given these kinds of options.

Most educators agree that elementary kids need to be able to quickly recall math facts. But, sometimes those familiar timed math fact worksheets can seem daunting to anxious test takers.

If possible, allow students to complete the worksheets within a defined time allotment rather than encouraging a race. Another option is to help build math fluency by using Number Talks. This is an approach that allows for structured, classroom discussions on how to solve math problems.

Adjusting classroom practices to allow for more personalized ways to check spelling or math fact proficiency can be one stress-relieving strategy. However, most teachers don’t have that type of flexibility when it comes to state-mandated standardized tests.

Since standardized tests can feel like a big deal to elementary school students, think about using these ideas to ease test-related anxiety:

  • Practice, practice, practice. Fear of the unknown is a huge anxiety-inducer so make sure kids are very familiar with the test format.
  • Repeat the instructions often. Help ease the students’ fears of making an incorrect mark or clicking the wrong button.
  • Remind the kids not to share their scores. Many standardized tests that are taken electronically report the score immediately after the test is completed. It’s hard for elementary-age students to resist the urge to broadcast their results, but try to discourage this practice. Anxious test takers do not benefit from the added pressure of sharing grades.

Test taking is a learned skill and it takes time for students to develop the appropriate amount of concentration and fearlessness. Teachers may not be able to eliminate every kid’s anxiety, but it’s often worth the effort to alleviate test-related stressors when possible.