STAAR testing is right around the corner. That means that millions of students across Texas are buckling down to get ready for a state-mandated exam that’s designed to measure college and career readiness, based on a student’s mastery of skills in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Since achievement of a minimum score on the STAAR test (and the high school End-Of-Course tests) is required for grade promotion at specific grade levels, many people describe this particular examination as a “high stakes” test.
The awareness of an upcoming “big” test has a varied effect on students. Some relish the opportunity to show off how much they’ve learned, some students become quite worried, and some are unfazed one way or another. Students who fall into the worried category might exhibit “testing anxiety” that can lead to behavior issues and struggles with test performance, even when the student is adequately prepared.
Unfortunately, there are no secret tricks that can evaporate anxiety or circumvent the hard work that goes into getting ready for the STAAR test (or any other examination in a student’s academic career, like the SAT, ACT, AP or GRE). But I can offer you a number of tried-and-true test preparation tips that can go a long way towards reducing anxiety and building a mindset that allows your child to do his or her best on test day.
Let’s take a look at some of these STAAR testing tips now, starting with one of the most important:
Tip 1: Seek out the advice of your child’s teacher.
Well in advance of test week, get in touch with your child’s teacher(s). Share your concerns or worries, and ask if they have any of their own that relate to your child’s performance. Ask the teacher if there is anything you can do at home to help get your child ready for the test.
This conversation is also a good time to review STAAR test-taking strategies with your child’s teacher. At our school, for example, teachers offer our students additional tutorials that provide them with best practices to master the exam, along with content review and tools to help students get into the right frame of mind for test day. Make sure you understand how your child is supposed to navigate common testing challenges, like a question he doesn’t understand, keeping track of time, how to check his work, etc. Once you have a handle on these best practices, you can review and discuss with your child. It can also be helpful to discuss your own test taking experiences and insights—just be sure to avoid giving any contradictory “tips” that might confuse the preparation your child is going through at school.
Tip 2: De-mystify the STAAR.
The STAAR is a comprehensive exam of information your student has studied all year. That means it’s not really different, when you get right down to it, from the other tests your child takes where he’s expected to showcase his knowledge and mastery of the concepts he’s being taught. Taking a “Hey, you’ve already done this” approach with your child can help reduce some of the stress he might be feeling about the STAAR test.
The only difference that the STAAR poses for online students is that it might be the only exam they will take face-to-face all year. So talking about this difference and what your child should expect from the experience can be helpful. The day before the STAAR exam, the teacher who is proctoring your exam will call you, so you’ll be able to work with the teacher to answer any last minute questions or squelch any exam day fears your child might be having.
Tip 3: Feed your child well, but don’t go crazy.
There’s no doubt that a child who is hungry can’t do his best during a test—BUT—a child who is “coming down” from a giant bowl of sugary cereal or nodding off after a huge pancake breakfast won’t perform well, either.
The answer? Make sure that your child eats a nutritious meal the morning of test days, but resist the urge to overstuff him. The best plan for the morning is something along the lines of eggs or another healthy protein, paired with some fruit and a hydrating beverage. You might also suggest a brisk walk or other physical activity before or after breakfast, so that your child has the chance to build up a head of energy (or burn off anxiety) before heading to the testing location.
Tip 4: [For online students]: Make a dry run.
As we already mentioned, STAAR testing can be a somewhat unique experience for online students because it’s likely the first time that they will test face-to-face during the year. In some cases, STAAR testing day might also be the first time they meet their teacher or their classmates “in real life.” It also might be the first time for the student to visit the testing center where the exam will take place.
Besides discussing all of these differences with your child, it’s also helpful if you drive to the testing site ahead of time, at the same time of day that you’ll be making the trip on test day. That way both you and your student will develop some comfort with the location before it’s show time.
Tip 5: Get organized.
Even a well-prepared student can perform less-than-her-best on the STAAR test if she’s flustered. So, on test days, we suggest that you:
Lay out clothes and pack bags the night before, so that you don’t have to rush in the morning.
Take a jacket – it may be warm outside, but sometimes school buildings can have the air conditioning cranked down.
Set your alarms at least 10-15 minutes earlier than usual. Also set a backup alarm, just in case.
Have your child make her bed and tidy up a bit. She may complain if that’s not her normal routine, but she’ll nonetheless feel a sense of control if she’s leaving the house with everything in order.
Leave the house 10-15 minutes earlier than usual, just in case you run into traffic.
The night before the test, encourage your child to “sign off” from schoolwork and other activities a little bit earlier than usual and do something fun before she goes to bed (on time).
Tip 6: Unclutter the calendar.
Today’s student is likely to have a calendar that’s saturated with activities. We certainly know all about that at iUniversityPrep, where many of our academic students are also serious students of the performing arts, elite athletes or aspiring entrepreneurs.
Since being overwhelmed can produce anxiety, we suggest that you limit outside activities during STAAR testing week or the week of any other big exam. Find out if there are any major rehearsals, practices, tryouts, etc. and see if there is an opportunity to reschedule. Even if that’s not possible, it will help to know in advance what kind of challenges your child may be dealing with that week.
Tip 7: Be an encourager.
Even as a veteran educator, I’m still struck by how often kids take their cues from parents and teachers, even when they don’t seem to be listening. That’s why I recommend that, in the weeks leading up to the STAAR test (and throughout the year), you put your own concerns or opinions about state testing aside in favor of an encouraging dialogue with your child. If he seems worried, discuss “what if” scenarios and remind him of all of the things he’s done to prepare for the test. The idea is to create a “you’ve got this” frame of mind that will help him approach test week with confidence.
Tip 8: Plan a reward the same week of the test.
Ever noticed how the prospect of a looming challenge or a not-so-favorite task is made less stressful when you know something really fun is just around the corner? Your child is probably the same way, so consider planning a post-test dinner at a favorite restaurant, a Friday night sleepover with a friend, or a Saturday amusement park excursion, all in celebration of getting through a big exam.
Tip 9: (And it’s the most important tip of all): Invest in school, all year round.
Based on my 20 years as an educator (not to mention my 24 years as a student) I can honestly say that there is one testing tip that makes more difference than all of the others combined, and it’s a four-parter:
Attend class regularly.
Keep up with your assignments.
Ask for help when you don’t understand something.
And why is this my number one tip? Because even an arsenal of test-taking strategies can’t overcome a lack of subject mastery. Because a student who doesn’t have a firm grasp of basic concepts has little to no chance of doing well on a test. And because a student who has been working hard and “plugging in” for months will likely be filled with self-confidence when she picks up her pen on test day.
Remember this: A student who blows off school for months can’t be expected to suddenly gain subject matter mastery in the space of a few days right before a test, no matter how smart that student is. If you or your child are less than satisfied with testing performance, take an honest look at the level of investment your child is making in school all year long. If it’s time to re-think priorities or change your course, set up a conference with your child’s teacher to discuss a plan of action.
Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD where she oversees their state-wide virtual school and blended schools program.
Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child. Check us out at www.iuniversityprep.org or give us a call at 817-305-4895.
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