Taking assessments in the form of tests or exams throughout the term can seem an obviously expected part of the learning process, but it is possible that you’ll encounter learners who struggle with test anxiety. These learners, no matter how well they know the concepts or material covered, may find themselves drawing a blank when they sit down with an exam in front of them.

If you so choose, there are options for you to employ to help students cope with their test anxiety. In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, authors Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert McKeachie offer several:

  1. You can choose to lower the “stakes” for a particular assessment. When you have multiple opportunities for assessing learning, it’s your prerogative to decrease the importance of one.
  2. Offer chances for redemption. You can give students who have difficulty taking tests the option to do additional work or make corrections to what they’ve done already as an opportunity to earn back some of the points they may have lost. How often do we find growth in learning from our mistakes?
  3. Allow students space and the option to explain why they decided on the answer they’ve given. It can help them think through their decision-making process and remove some of their uncertainty around providing a particular response.
  4. Give them some tips for success. Let them know what they can expect. Will the test include essay questions or multiple choice? Perhaps a mix of the two? Not knowing what to expect can contribute to their anxiety. You can also help prepare them by coaching them on approaching test taking. Remind them to breathe, and reinforce the power of positive thinking. Telling themselves, “I am prepared and I am going to do well” can certainly encourage a more positive outcome than “If you don’t ace this, your GPA is going to suffer.”

Reference: Content adapted from McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What strategies do you use to help your learners who encounter test anxiety? Do you share tips in your classes for how to avoid feeling overwhelmed by an assessment? Tell us in the comments section below.