The morning news programs are becoming less about the news and more about infotainment and self-help gurus who offer advice on everything from how to pack for your next trip, to organizing your closets, to dealing with your mail. None of these things should be that much of a challenge that you need a coach or have to read a book to handle them.
The latest one that caught my eye is an article in Time entitled “Relax, It’s Only A Test”, by Annie Murphy Paul, February 11, 2013. Her revelation? Reducing exam stress can lead to better grades!
Murphy Paul’s article profiles research from several major universities suggesting that before a test, students should be given pencils with motivational messages, write down their thoughts and feelings, even participate in affirmation exercises. She links test anxiety to the larger issues of life altering consequences (glad I didn’t know about them when I was 12). Murphy Paull further draws in issues of stereotypes associated with demographic factors. Little is said, however, about the connection between effort and success.
If you want to lower a child’s level of concern, raise their confidence in their skills – including those most often associated with increased performance on examinations. How about promoting study skills and providing alternative assessment strategies that allow students to demonstrate their skills instead of relying on metrics that may only be remotely related to what they profess they are testing? What’s wrong with helping students understand that in the real world we are measured by our actual performance, and not psychometric comparisons to less than authentic standards and Lake Wobegone norm groups?
Yes, there are students who are paralyzed by standardized tests and testing in general, but playing in to the anxiety with more psychological babble reinforces the symptoms and avoids confronting the root cause.
We need to take a hard look at the tests we are using. Do they test the things we consider important? And, could we simply just do a better job of teaching our students what it is we know they need to learn?
One of the students quoted in the article gets it right when he says, “We all stress out about tests and it helps to realize that the test is no big deal.” It’s not that complicated.