Standardized testing is the toughest time of the school year. The pressure to perform ripples through classrooms across the country. In Texas, that pressure comes in the form of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, more commonly known as STAAR tests.

As many of us know, testing anxiety is real and can rear its ugly head among even the most confident students. For children experiencing mental illness, the stress, anxiety and self-doubt can have exponentially greater effects. It’s little wonder why the number of incidents of self-harm and aggressive behavior is much higher during standardized testing season. These incidents don’t just happen to children who struggle academically. High-achieving children can be just as vulnerable to the stress and anxiety.

As a teacher, you instinctively want to help your students do well through an extremely stressful time. But what’s the best way to do that? The key is to help students prepare for what is expected of them during standardized testing and facilitate an environment where they can focus, relax, and do their best. The following 5 strategies can help you prepare your students to survive and thrive during standardized testing.

  1. Teach students test-taking strategies, including:

  • Arriving early to class before a test to take some time to relax and focus thoughts.

  • Listening attentively to verbal instructions.

  • Taking time to read written instructions.

  • Planning out how much time each section of the test will take, and then start with the easiest section first to build confidence.

  • Maintaining a positive attitude during testing sessions.

  • Taking tests using the two-pass approach (answering known questions on the first pass and then going back to answer harder answers later).

  • Relying on first impressions. The first answer that comes to mind is usually the correct one.

  • Taking the necessary time to finish the test.

  1. Give students practice tests.

  • Practice tests allow students to find out where they excel, as well as determine which topics need more attention and study.

  • Get creative with practice tests. Make them fun and informative. Consider trivia-style practice tests, like a Jeopardy-type review game; bingo-style reviews; flash-card review games; or crossword puzzle reviews, etc.

  1. Form study groups.

  • Create student study groups well in advance of testing.

  • Provide a detailed study guide for students to utilize. This will allow students to feel prepared and ready for testing.

  1. Teach students how to de-stress in the classroom.

  • Encourage students to do pre-test stretching, including showing them how to do seated stretches as a way to relax.

  • Deep breathing for a few minutes may also help students de-stress.

  • Let students meditate on positive thoughts prior to test-taking.

  1. Communicate with parents on how they can help their children at home to prepare for standardized testing, including:

  • Actively working with their child to prepare for testing.

  • Ensuring their child gets a good night’s sleep the night before testing and eats a full breakfast in the morning.

  • Helping their child remain relaxed immediately prior to testing.

  • Remember to communicate with parents about particular subjects their child needs extra help on, and provide study guides or resources so parents can work with their child at home to adequately prepare for testing.

Perhaps most importantly, teachers must understand that everyone experiences stress and anxiety in different ways. Some children may keep it all inside, while others want to talk through all of the possible scenarios. Be attuned to each child’s needs. Ask gentle questions if they are quieter than usual. Acknowledge and then redirect their worried thoughts as they share them with you. And once testing is over, celebrate with your students to reward their efforts and to promote encouragement for future learning and testing opportunities.