Whether they admit it or not, students often feel pressured to perform at their best when taking tests. While there may be variations by state, federally mandated standardized testing to assess student achievement generally occurs between March and May. This is just one type of assessment, but it can be pretty high stakes. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to feel the pressure and experience test stress.
Students also take other summative assessments to determine entry into private schools or colleges, and in vocational schools, students may take some standardized testing for training certificates, et cetera. Standardized testing occurs in addition to the many formative assessments that students take throughout the year to determine academic progress and mastery of subject matter.
Test stress can impact educators, too! Throughout the year, educators work hard to ensure that students understand the curriculum and can demonstrate their learning in various ways. Educators are under pressure to ensure their students are prepared and can perform well during tests. This is especially true for standardized testing, where there are a lot of time constraints for covering the material that they anticipate will be on the test, which means there's pressure to move quickly through subjects.
Teachers are there to guide, inspire and facilitate student learning as they deliver the curriculum. There is a delicate balance needed to ensure that students understand the material and can demonstrate mastery while helping them to find relevance in the work and make connections to other learning.
Test stress and anxiety are commonplace today and are linked to performance anxiety. The desire to perform well or excellently drives the anxiety or fear of test-taking. Concern about subject matter knowledge also comes into play when it has not been fully covered or absorbed.
According to an article titled 'Test and Stress Bias' published by Usable Knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, "children are affected by standardized testing, with some seeing their cortisol levels spike on testing days, and others seeing it drop, which might lead them to disengage."
The pressures experienced by students as related to testing may include some or all of the following:
Symptoms of test stress vary depending on the individual student or their age, but may include:
Physical symptoms: headaches, nausea, increased heart rate
Emotional symptoms: nervousness, anxiety, frustration, bad-tempered moodiness
Behavioral symptoms: crying, trouble sleeping, school and/or class avoidance, lashing out at others
Mindfulness practice has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety in students and enhance their ability to focus. Most importantly, daily mindfulness practice is foundational and delivers life-changing benefits.
Daily mindfulness in the classroom helps teachers and students decrease stress and improve executive functioning (i.e., organizational skills). The Prefrontal cortex is part of the brain that organizes our higher-order thinking and it’s activated and strengthened through a daily mindfulness practice.
When students are able to strengthen their organizational and critical-thinking skills, they will naturally perform better with academics in general and with test-taking in particular. Additionally, a daily mindfulness practice increases resiliency and decreases reactivity, allowing students to access their positive coping skills and control their emotions when faced with stressful situations.
Inner Explorers mindfulness platform is proven to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and increase academic achievement. Read the published study, "Audio-guided mindfulness training in schools and its effect on academic attainment: Contributing to theory and practice" for insights and details.
Supportive mindfulness practices that may help to lessen stress and prepare students for testing include:
Any of the above can help students come back to a place of calm and to feel more grounded and centered before, during, and after test-taking. For more helpful tools, visit our page on mindful test-taking.
It's not just about academic performance when we speak of a student’s A-game. Instead, it’s about all-around wellness and becoming the best version of themselves -- managing stress and navigating challenges as they arise. Regular daily mindfulness practice supports students’ overall wellbeing.
Daily mindfulness builds awareness, so students can better identify and manage their emotions, build positive relationships with peers and adults, and navigate their social environments. When students are able to take care of their physical and mental health they will perform better with expected tasks in school, at home, and in the community. Mindfulness is inside-out learning that empowers students - preparing them for the world and helping them to fulfill their potential.
Parents and caregivers may wonder how they can play a part in decreasing their child’s test-taking anxiety. There is an enormous opportunity to influence your child’s health and wellness by practicing mindfulness as a family.
Family mindfulness practice is mutually supportive and beneficial for all who practice. Parents improve communication with their children by opening the doors to better dialogue through mindfulness. When families practice mindfulness together, students will turn to it with ease in times of stress because they’ve experienced firsthand how it’s worked in their family. They come to see mindfulness as a natural part of self-care to promote mental health, just as teeth-brushing promotes good dental health.
Practicing mindfulness in the classroom and at home serves to amplify the benefits and doubly prepares students to alleviate stress and be better equipped to thrive when taking tests.
For parents and caregivers looking to gain insight into mindfulness and how it’s practiced in their child’s classroom, the Inner Explorer HOME app offers experiential learning and tools to do just that. Families who use Inner Explorer daily mindfulness practices help their children and family decrease stress, ease anxiety, develop resilience and master important social and emotional life skills.