When parents and guardians ask me what to do to help their kids handle the stresses of standardized tests, I tell them the first step is not to say a word. “Did I read that right?” you’re probably asking yourself. The answer is “Yes.” That doesn’t mean don’t *do* anything. You need to do a few things!
Review the easy tips below; and then step back. It’s the best thing you can do for your test-taking child.
Step #1: Take the test. You, yes, you. As your child’s role model, you need to practice taking a sample standardized test under testing protocols. You must follow time constraints and work independently in a quiet space — the same things required of your child. Seek the highest score possible. Each question has the same value. Use any problem solving strategies you know such as eliminating unreasonable answers so you can make educated guesses and delaying doing difficult problems until you have completed the easier ones.
Step #2: Ask yourself questions that can help you give practical tips.
1. Did you build momentum by finding ways to get easy points?
2. Did you give yourself a silent high-five for working through complexities?
3. Did you maintain energy and time by calmly skipping stressful questions?
4. Did you score points on a skipped problem because you saw it more clearly later?
5. Did you regain focus by giving yourself a brief break?
If, after a second effort, you didn’t answer “Yes” to at least three of these, look for support from others and be a quiet supporter of your child.
Step #3: Now is the time to engage with your child in an empathetic way. After all, you just put yourself in the same position your child will be facing. Share anecdotes that help you present yourself as a resilient test-taker. Give your child examples. You want your child to productively struggle, and in order for the struggle to be productive rather than debilitating, she or he needs support.
Step #4: Partner with your child to do a few test-prep questions, as a peer, as a student. Try to score well, but focus on being curious about how they coach you, so they’re in the role of supporting and teaching you. As kids model and explain thinking, they develop skills that are just as crucial as a high test score.
If you cannot manage your anxiety, put the work with your child to the side. They will not internalize the material if they feel too stressed. Model how to productively work through challenges. Do show yourself being challenged. This will help them not only to problem-solve in testing but also in life.
Kevin Miller is a full-time tutor based in Tarrytown. You can reach him at kevsmilltutoring.com or firstname.lastname@example.org