What's a baby's first experience at birth, even before being cleaned, clothed, or fed? A standardized test to determine the Apgar score. It's a fitting welcome to a long life of Denver scores, entrance exams, mid-term quizzes, final exams, gifted and talented assessments, IQ tests, national standardized progress tests, PSATs, SATs, LSATs MCATs, bar exams, and med school boards. Perhaps our reliance on tests isn't fair, and perhaps it isn't educationally helpful, but it's the world we live in, so we must accept that if our kids can't prove themselves with a #2 pencil, they will have a hard time excelling in many arenas. Luckily testing is a learned skill, and most people's greatest testing hurdle-test anxiety-can be overcome. With the below tips you can help your children maximize their test-taking abilities, and in no time you will be boasting, "My kid is more standard deviations above the mean than yours!"
- Prepare. Dale Earnhardt couldn't win the Daytona 500 in a Honda Civic. Similarly, your kid can be a master test-taker, but without the knowledge and ability, she won't do well. That's why preparation is by far the most important factor in succeeding on tests. Help your kids prepare by staying involved and teaching time management skills. For example, try working with your kids to design a calendar that plots out appropriate amounts of study time. With a calendar, your kids can prepare for tests without cramming, which is an ineffective method of learning.
- Build confidence. Even when students are well prepared, many are hampered by a lack of confidence. The best remedy for lack of confidence is . . . prepare some more! Over-preparation is the best medicine, but once your kids have successfully completed American History boot camp, or are babbling geometry equations in their sleep, you can help develop confidence with pep talks like, "You have really done great studying, and you know this stuff cold. You are going to be in good shape for the exam."
- Offer perspective. Test-anxiety, which is an important predictor of both test scores and GPA, is in large part due to a fear of failure. Beyond preparation and confidence, you can help your kids reduce their fear of failure by keeping the consequences of a test in perspective. This, however, is a delicate balance. You want the test to be important enough to inspire hard work and preparation, but you also want your kid to understand that it isn't the end of the world if she doesn't ace any given exam. There is no single test that affects the rest of your child's life: grades can be increased and tests can be taken again. Your kid will get into a good college no matter what SAT score she gets. Let your child know that no matter how she does you will love her and her life will be just fine.
- Control yourself. Keeping things in perspective for your kids is important. But guess who else needs to keep kids' tests in perspective? Here are three hints: he's good looking, smart, and has a good sense of humor. That's right, it's you! Many parents cause their kids' fear of failure and test anxiety with an "Ivy League or Bust" attitude. So explain not only to your kids but to the mirror that everything will be just fine no matter how your child does on any given exam. To avoid putting extra pressure on your kids, hide your own nervousness about big tests, and don't over-react to failures or successes. That means if your kid gets a B on a spelling exam, don't say, "Well there's always trade school," and if he gets an A, don't kiss the floor with shouts of "My prayers have been answered! Hallelujah!"
- Relaxation. Research shows that relaxation training can significantly reduce test anxiety and improve test scores. Different people like different techniques, such as breathing exercises, visualization of a relaxing place, and physical activity. Some people find that simply becoming aware of a physiological symptom helps alleviate that symptom. For example, people can reduce high pulse rates just by being aware of their pulse. Work with your kids to determine how they can relax themselves before and during exams.
- Keep up good health. Besides the general health benefits of exercise and eating right, a healthy lifestyle increase focus, memory, and attention span. Apparently things have changed since we went to college because instant ramen, pizza, and coke are no longer considered brain foods. Help your kids maintain a healthy lifestyle, and eat a nutritious breakfast on test days.
- Talk about good test-taking techniques. Beyond helping your kids learn to prepare for exams and handle test anxiety, you can talk about some techniques that can help maximize their performance on test day. Teach your kids to read everything, including instructions, carefully. Remind them to read and eliminate bad answer choices even if they think they have already found the correct answer. Discuss time management. Test takers often get bogged down or discouraged by one hard question, while it is best to just skip that question and move on. Finally, explain why to never leave questions blank-even a random guess has some chance of being correct.
- Review tests. When your kids get tests back, make sure to review them together. Give your kids positive feedback on what they did well, and discuss a plan to fix what could have gone better. If the test didn't go well and you can't find ways to improve, consider lawsuits and/or threatening phone calls.