Monthly Archives

January 2022

Test Anxiety

For students, it’s normal and even somewhat healthy to feel nervous about test taking.  Healthy nerves can help a student take specific measures for success such as sleeping well, studying and eating a nutritious breakfast the day of an important test.  Unfortunately, nearly 40% of the student population suffers from test anxiety, (American Test Anxiety Association, Dr. Richard Driscoll), which may often leave them feeling defeated, disappointed and disconnected from their education. 

Test anxiety is different from “normal nerves” in that it can be debilitating and often results in underperformance.  “Excessive anxiety can result in test failure, leading to excessive worrying or rumination (negative cognition) and an inability to concentrate further resulting in poorer academic achievement (Szafranski et al., 2012).”    

Affecting students on three different levels: physically, emotionally and behaviorally, test anxiety is not only difficult to avoid, but also takes a toll on a student’s academic success.  Let’s cover the three ways test anxiety can negatively impact a student. 

The physical symptoms of test anxiety are palpable and can appear in the form of a fast heart rate, nausea, upset stomach, headaches, faintness and shortness of breath.  In more extreme cases, the physical symptoms of test anxiety can lead a person to panic and feel as though they are dying.  

Emotionally, test anxiety works to enhance negative feelings that are already prevalent in the mind.  Fear, disappointment, regret, feelings of failure and a lack of confidence can lead a student toward giving up their academic career entirely. 

Finally, behavioral symptoms often occur when preparing for or taking a test that is causing a student anxiety.  Symptoms include, a lack of concentration, feeling distracted, avoidance from preparing for a test, boredom and fatigue while studying, a lack of sleep the night before a big test, blocked thoughts while taking a test as well as feeling frustrated or impatient afterward.  Behavioral symptoms are closely tied to thoughts that precede the behaviors and these thoughts often tell a student that they aren’t as smart as others or that they don’t have the ability to be successful.  Those thoughts and feelings play off of one another, triggering a spiraling loop. 

There are many causes of test anxiety, ranging from learning differences to fear of failure.  At the root of it all is mental wellness and effective decision-making, which ties into social and emotional learning (SEL).  “Studies have shown that emotionality, a classically conditioned reactive response to a threat, can be counter-conditioned using relaxation, mindfulness, and breathing techniques, along with study skills and SEL strategies to reduce test anxiety and improve test scores (Aritzeta et al., 2017; Bradley et al., 2010).”

Recently, it has become common practice for schools to use SEL in order to adequately prepare students for life, which is why it’s crucial for teachers to have the necessary tools in order to develop mental health strategies and evidence-based approaches for their students.  According to research, many students don’t get the help they need due to “(a) access barriers such as insufficient information about potential assistance and (b) personal barriers such as shame or lack of time for time-costly interventions.”  

With social and emotional learning available as a viable option for all students, test-anxiety can be combated through mental health approaches in conjunction with academic preparedness.  Many of the smartest students fail to see their potential and find their professional path because of test anxiety.  Many students aren’t taught the appropriate skills needed for success and they don’t know how to talk themselves down with coping strategies when the spiral begins.  Educators need to be able to identify test anxiety and offer solutions that can lead students to their academic potential and ultimately, to their success.  

The best SEL programs do their job and allow the educator to do theirs, which is to teach.

If SEL Is So Important, Why Can’t It Fit Into a Regular School Day?

With student’s mental health struggles on the rise, students are depending on teachers to not just educate them on math or English, but anxiety management too, especially because research shows that students are more likely to seek counseling when services are available in schools.  Counselors, social workers and psychologists are doing their best to assist all students, but with a 500:1 national average ratio respectively, much of the job also falls onto the educators. 

For the first time in history, 7-year-olds are being seen in emergency departments for suicide attempts and self-harming behaviors.  The mental health crisis is here and social and emotional learning, SEL, can be just the tool to help.  None of you are alone, even though it may feel like you are.

Social and emotional learning is a methodology that helps students comprehend their emotions and exhibit empathy for others.  These teachings help students develop responsible decision making skills as well as build positive relationships with themselves and with others.  SEL programs range from character education topics such as friendships all the way to depression, self-esteem and suicide prevention. 

Not all SEL is created equal and time spent in a meaningful program is critical.  The challenge of fitting this into each school day can be mitigated by adding a period into each week.  If SEL were to have a dedicated time and place, students would have the ability to receive in-depth and intentional instruction.  With this time and privacy, students would have access to deeper thinking about future goals, motivation and personal mental health.  

Some schools say that they have their mental health teachings in check, however the majority are hanging on by a thread.  “Research clearly demonstrates the significant role of SEL in promoting the healthy development and academic achievement of all students. It also shows that SEL reduces problem behaviors and emotional distress that interfere with the learning and development of some students. Research also indicates that SEL programming significantly raises test scores while it lowers levels of emotional distress; disruptive behavior; and alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use.”   

Why is a subject that is so important, so difficult to implement into a school’s curriculum? 

There is a rising movement to embed SEL into core curricula.  Tom Joad from “The Grapes of Wrath” can be a prime talking point for conversations about resilience and forward thinking.  Geometry can be a concept akin to the importance of balance and middle ground.  These conversations are a good start, but what do we do when a student doesn’t want to speak out loud in front of their peers?  What if a student is suffering from more than a lack of “grit?”  Research shows that approximately 49% of K-12 students may face a mental health condition during their time in school.  This means that while the Tom Joad conversation is a nice one to have, it’s not getting to the core of what the 49% of students facing mental health conditions need to address. 

In a recent conversation with former United States Representative, Patrick Kennedy, he referenced a metaphor that he recently heard in which mental health was referred to as “the license necessary to drive the brain.”

We don’t receive adequate driver’s education by throwing in snippets about traffic signals during social studies or by discussing turning out of a skid in the middle of Shakespeare.  No, we create a space for this crucial topic because our kids’ lives depend on it.  With half of the K-12 students suffering from some type of mental illness and the other 50% needing to understand how to drive their own brains, how is tying in this type of license adequate enough in snippets?

Until education reform changes the mandates of everyday learning, snippets are all many of our students will get.  If you are in a position to change this and can be the gatekeeper for your students, you have more influence than you may realize.  We at BASE exist so you don’t have to do the work.  

While 10,000 hours is the measure to become an expert at something, one hour per week or two thirty-minute sessions behind the screen can begin to help increase your students’ engagement, academic success and can truly be a meaningful life-saver. We can’t prepare children for everything, but we have an obligation to do our very best.