Decreasing Students’ Testing Anxiety

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, anxiety is on the rise among adolescents. By 2020, 5.6 million young people in the US had been diagnosed with anxiety. And nothing can trigger anxiety like testing day. Peak certification testing season is fast approaching, so we wanted to empower our educators with tactics to decrease your students’ testing anxiety. Our fabulous CERTIFIED Ambassador, Damiano Mastandrea, gives some fabulous suggestions.

Building up to testing day

Much of your students’ anxiety will be triggered by the unknown. “I’ve never taken this exam before. What if I don’t know how to use the interface? What if I get stuck?” All these types of thoughts can trigger anxiety.

Damiano’s first piece of advice was to make the unknown known. “In our school, if an educator wants to offer a certification, they need to take it first.” Not only will this offer you the confirmation you need to structure your curriculum, but it will also allow you to reassure students that you’ve seen the test and know how to best prepare them.

You can also remove the mystery by printing and distributing a competency checklist. Certiport publishes the objective domains for all the certification exams. Turning these objective domains into checklists that students can review empowers them to confirm their own knowledge and walk into testing day feeling prepared.

Additional resources, such as curriculum and practice tests, can further calm students’ nerves before testing day. Certiport offers a number of resources to help students see the testing environment and learn how to navigate the interface before they’re in an actual testing scenario. “Practice tests help students get familiar with the format, while taking all the time they need to learn,” said Damiano.

Above all, remember that no curriculum or checklist can replace your support. You know your students and what they need. Be open about your support and confidence in their abilities.

Testing day

For students with anxiety, certification day can be filled with dread. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Make sure to create a calm environment. “I think it would be truly beautiful if parents and communities wrote in messages of support on testing day,” said Damiano. “Our young people need to realize that they’re not in it alone, and that they have people cheering them on.” You can also start testing day with breathing exercises or a brief talk from the school counselor or psychologist, to help students put their bodies and minds at ease.

In additional to building emotional support, offering pragmatic advice can be equally calming. Damiano commented, “I talk to my students about the retake policy. I help them see that it’s okay if they don’t pass the first time.” Remind them that there’s no deadline for learning, and they can bolster their skills before trying again.

Keeping the calm after testing day

The end of the exam, unfortunately for some, doesn’t spell the end of students’ anxiety. Students who don’t pass may continue stressing about the exam, what they could’ve done differently or how they could’ve improved their performance. In moments where disappointment and stress are overwhelming, educators can lend their calm and analytical mind. Pull your students aside and take the time to go through their score report. Show them where they performed well and talk about areas where they can improve.

Damiano offered a strong reminder for educators, “In a moment like this, where anxiety is exacerbated by disappointment, it’s especially important to bolster students’ confidence. Don’t be afraid to tell your students that you’re proud of their efforts. Help them make an actionable plan that will allow them to improve their knowledge and go into their retake with more knowledge and confidence.”

Interested in more ideas or suggestions for combating testing anxiety? Listen to Damiano’s CERTIFIED Educator Podcast episode here.