Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below offers techniques that can decrease student anxiety before taking a test.
It is from Chapter 8, Injecting Jest Into Your Test, Reducing Anxiety Before the Test in,
Humor as an Instructional Defibrillator: Evidence-Based Techniques in Teaching and Assessment by Ronald A. Berk. Published in 2002 by, Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quiksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166. Copyright ? 2002 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrows Teaching and Learning
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INJECTING JEST INTO YOUR TEST
Although using humor in the test itself can have a positive impact on the test-taking experience, there are four preliminary techniques that can decrease anxiety before the test: (1) test scheduling, (2) test length/administration time, (3) test preparation, and (4) test formal. Each of these techniques is examined next:
1. Have students determine the best day to schedule the test. About two weeks before the students are ready for the test, I present three or four class date options. I ask them "What's the best date when you have no other competing exams or projects due?" Frequently, one of the dates is a killer for them with one or two major tests already scheduled. The students vote on each date. Majority rules. I do this for each test in my undergraduate and graduate courses. This strategy not only gives the students a feeling of empowerment, but it also reduces anxiety over my exam and puts the burden of performance on the students. They have no excuse for performing poorly, such as
two other exams on the same day. However, they may create other excuses later. You're probably wondering, "What about your scheduled class topics?" Whaaateverrr! Actually, I don't lose a single step in content coverage. Once the test date is set, I proceed with new material in the classes before the test plus a test review. My students' test schedules are far more important than my topic schedule. The advantages above far outweigh any minor adjustments I have to make.
2. Allow adequate time for all students to complete the test. Unless speed is a criterion for performance, then the test should be at an appropriate length so that all students can finish in the allotted time. Of course, there are always some students whose hands will have to be pried from the test booklet and answer sheet with a crowbar when the time has expired. Students should be told this test timeframe in advance, as part of test preparation. For example, when you describe the test structure, you could say: "The test is designed so that all of you should have adequate time to complete it; so don't rush and make careless mistakes. Pace yourselves accordingly, but you have to finish on time because I have to leave to have my dog neutered. Ouch!" This announcement may not change how the students study for the test, but it may reduce some stress by relieving some of the anticipated time pressure felt when taking the test.
3. Prepare the students for the test. Part of the students' fear of tests is simply the unknown, not knowing what to expect. Providing them with basic information on the test structure, item formats, and an outline of topics for which they are responsible can reduce that fear. Even simple practice items or guidelines/suggestions on "how to prepare" would really be appreciated. If time permits, a formal test review of critical content, areas of confusion and ambiguity, and careless errors or misconceptions can help alleviate anxiety and boost confidence. Try the Jeopardy! review format or other game structures described in Chapter 3. you have to decide, in the role of their coach, how to prepare them for "The BIG GAME." When they enter the room, will they be loaded for bear or squirrel? "Wait. That's hunting game you moron, not sports! You're mixing your metaphors." Oh. Sorry. I think I'm metaphorically challenged. Anyway, the more students know about what to expect !
and what is expected, the lower will be their anticipatory anxiety.
4. Use open-everything or take-home test formats to tap higher-order thinking skills. Unless you are measuring the lowest level of cognition, knowledge, memorization is unnecessary. Having access to notes, the text, or other materials will not help students perform better on application, analysis, or higher-level items, nor will they have must time during the test to consult those sources. However, research evidence indicates that access alone decreases anxiety significantly during the test (Berk, 1996b). Alternatively, a take-home exam or portion of an exam can also reduce anxiety. "Real-life" decision making is not conducted under artificial, closed-book, test-taking conditions. If you are trying to assess applications of content to practical settings, simulations and hypothetical scenarios, vignettes, or case studies can easily fit into either of the above formats.
The preceding strategies can have a profound effect on the students' perception of the tests in your course and, ultimately, on their performance. But they must be consistent with the outcomes being assessed by your test. The validity of what your test measures should not be compromised by any of these test preparation of administration techniques.