Subtracting Anxiety from Test Scene

Article excerpt

HAVE you ever had the test dream? The one where you're in college again, taking a final, and as you clutch your empty blue book you realize that you have never attended a single class all semester?

There are, of course, many variations on this hideous theme. I have one where it's a final in a language that I do not speak, something that involves the Cyrillic alphabet. OOOH! It makes me cringe, just thinking of it.

These dreams are said to be extremely common, proving, I guess, that in our society tests are the symbol of anxiety. Thank goodness we don't have to take them anymore!

Ooops! Our kids still do.

And they are just as anxious about them as we were.

Tests can provoke anxiety at any stage, from kindergarten to graduate school. But test anxiety seems to hit particularly hard in the middle school years, says veteran educator Betty Poore.

"I think more kids are anxious than we know," said Poore, director of the Sylvan Learning Center in Ballwin. "Many will not openly admit it. But there are signs of anxiety parents can pick up on.

"You hear protestations: `Oh, I don't need to do it, I already know it.' There's irritability about studying, and defensiveness: `I'll never need to do this.'

"And then there's the biggest sign of anxiety of all - procrastination."

Poore spent 25 years in public schools, 18 as an elementary school teacher and seven as a principal before she went into the private sector. She's also a mom, and she's been a student (she holds a doctorate from St. Louis University). So she's seen test anxiety from a lot of different perspectives - and she thinks it can be dealt with successfully.

She advocates an 8-point plan for students, formulated by Sylvan, a supplemental study company, as a way to get a handle on test anxiety before it gets out of control.

1. Make pressure positive. Instead of giving into pressure, harness its adrenaline for an energy boost. That way it works for you, not against you.

One trick to make this happen: When you sit down to a test, Poore says, take a couple of deep breaths immediately, even before you pick up a pencil. This will help you focus on the task at hand and take charge of your energy. …