15 High-Stakes Testing Tips for Teachers

Nothing’s more anxiety-inducing—for you or your students—than the rigor of standardized tests. That’s why we've has pulled together the very best of teachers’ own tried-and-true tips to keep your classroom meltdown-free this time of year. Click here for a PDF version of these tips to share with your colleagues! 

1. Get Real.

Honesty is sixth grade English teacher Mary Blow’s No. 1 tactic for motivating students to care. The New York-based educator explains to her class that standardized tests are just one measure of academic progress, and expresses confidence that their performance will boost the school’s reputation, not hurt their GPA.

2. Stay Positive.

Writing the test off as a waste of time can generate student apathy and come back to hurt you once scores arrive. Remember that your attitude is contagious, and keep test talk casual and optimistic.   

3. Tap Your Tribe.

Your colleagues are feeling the same pressure that you are; lean on them to share challenges and brainstorm solutions—or just to vent.

4. Think Ahead.

Modeling your summative assessments after the state test will familiarize students with the exam format, and give them a sense of what it’s like to work under a time constraint. They’ll feel much more comfortable during the real test if they know exactly what to expect.

5. Alert the Home Base.

Informing parents of test dates can help prevent appointment scheduling conflicts, as well as ensure that students arrive to school on time and get enough sleep (at least 8, but ideally 9 ¼, hours a night!) during the week. 

6. Chill Out.

Practice meditation and breathing techniques with your students throughout the year so that they’ll have stress busters on hand whenever they start to feel anxious during the test.

Try these stress-busters!

Massachusetts high school health teacher Kate Blair transforms her classroom into a pop-up wellness studio every Friday to build up her students’ meditation abilities. Here are the exercises she teachers her students to use when they need to refresh and re-center.

4-7-8 Breathing

Breathe in through the nose for four counts, hold for seven counts, then exhale slowly through the mouth for eight counts. Repeat 3-4 times. This technique will help students feel calm and in control.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

Starting with the head and working down to the toes, contract each muscle group for five seconds, then release for fifteen. This will increase blood flow to areas of the body that we unconsciously tense up under stress.

7. Fuel Up.

Teens are notorious for skipping breakfast, but without the proper nutrition to power their brains, they’ll crash not far into testing. Offer fruit, yogurt, and whole grain cereal or muffins before the test, along with plenty of water to keep students hydrated.

8. Get Moving.

To relieve stress and get blood (and oxygen!) flowing to students’ brains, Jeff Tranell, a sixth grade math and science teacher in Pennsylvania, leads a quick exercise and stretch session on the morning of each test day.

Try this superbrain stretch!

It’s thought to be a great way to activate and engage both sides of your brain, says to Joanne Spence, the executive director of Yoga in Schools.

1. Cross your right hand in front of your body to hold your left earlobe.

2. Cross your left hand in front of your body to hold your right earlobe.

3. With your arms now crossed in front of you, inhale, and bend your knees so that you’re going into a partial squat. “It doesn’t have to be much,” Spence says. “Just what your knees can comfortably handle.”

4. Exhale as you come up.

5. Repeat, slowly, 10-14 times.

9. Minimize Distractions.

Establish a bathroom use policy ahead of time, and keep a stack of sharpened pencils with full erasers on hand so that students don’t panic when theirs run low.

10. Spread out.

Moving desks as far apart as possible will prevent students from sensing their classmates’ speed and rushing to finish the test.

11. Deck the Halls.

In the weeks before the test, Courtney McCreadie, an eighth grade English teacher in New York, adorns the halls and classroom walls with motivational posters. By the time the test is in front of them, students will be able to draw from an inspiration bank to help them power through challenging moments.

Try this test inspo!

For starters, you can use Courtney’s favorite quote from inspirational writer and speaker Christian D. Larson. Write it on the board or make a sign:

“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.”

12. Cheer Students On.

For some last-minute oomph, sixth-grade teacher Sara Boyle’s Ohio middle school plans a special send-off on the first morning of test week. Students and teachers from younger grades form a gauntlet of cheers, signs, and confetti, and test-takers run through on their way to the testing location.

13. Make a Sweet Offer.

Pass out chewing gum or hard candy prior to the test, which studies say can improve focus. Side note: Have students unwrap their treats before the exam begins.  

14. Trust Yourself.

You’ve been working hard all year long to prepare your students for this test. Let it go, and let them rock!

15. Celebrate!

After the test, treat students to an outdoor game day, a team-building field trip, or an activity fair. They deserve a chance to shake off all that test stress—and so do you!

Now that your stress is under control, share this student testing survival guide with your class. From the best test-day breakfasts to sneaky mid-test stress-busters, we’ve got them covered!

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