Friday, 20 April 2012 21:50

Use Sports Analogies to Help Kids Perform Better on Standardized Tests

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Next week my third graders begin two weeks of state testing. We have been doing a bit of review over the past couple weeks to prepare for the three days of math and three days of language testing that we have here in California. As important as it is to focus on the academic skills that comprise the test, I believe it is equally as important to address the mental and emotional aspects of test-taking with my students.


Ours is a high-performing school, and great value is attached to these tests. When students hear about the tests at school and at home, it is easy for them to become anxious, and because anxiety can interfere with performance, I make a concerted effort to help my kids relax and feel comfortable as test-takers.

The main way I do this is through two sports analogies. I explain to my class that instead of viewing the test as something we should worry or become nervous about, we should get excited about it, just as a sports team looks forward to the big game. I tell them that it’s almost like they are the players, I am the coach, and together we are preparing to play our best.

I mention this sports analogy several times during our review days, building my kids up frequently and letting them know how ready we are to do a terrific job. I want my students to feel happy, relaxed, focused, and confident. That’s the mindset I want them to have every day, and it is even more important for them to feel this way throughout the testing. In short, I want them to view the testing situation as a positive opportunity to savor, not a negative requirement to dread.

The second analogy I share applies to all sports, but I mention it as a golf analogy. That way, I can stand up in front of them and demonstrate my swing a few times as I share the analogy. This demonstration adds novelty and, thus, makes my point more memorable. I tell my kids that when I play golf, I try to keep an even keel. I try not to get too excited after a good shot or too upset after a poor one. Such emotional swings (no pun intended) tend to interfere with performance while a calmer, steadier approach tends to lead to more consistent results.

I connect this idea to test-taking by explaining that we don’t want to get too excited when we think we have answered a question correctly and then become overly upset when we struggle over a difficult question. As one observer puts it, “peaks create valleys.” That means, we want to maintain a calmness as we proceed through the questions. Doing so conserves mental energy and enables us to stay emotionally “fresher.” The last thing we want is for one wrong answer to result in frustration that, in turn, causes two more wrong answers.

Of course, students need strong academic skills to perform well on standardized tests. As teachers, though, we also need to address the mental and emotional approach that our students take in these potentially stressful situations.

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