I am often asked if there is anything we can do to improve test scores without demanding more work from kids. People are shocked when I tell them it is absolutely possible. The single most important thing you can do is make very clear to your students that the test they are about to take does not really matter. I say, “Everyone is going to tell you guys how important this test is. They are going to act like your score really matters to your life. They are wrong. It does not matter. There are two things and two things only that matter when you take this test. They are attitude and effort.
These are the only two things in life every human being has control over at all times. Outcomes in life take care of themselves. You cannot control them. But each and every one of you in this room can control the attitude you bring to every situation and the effort you put in. Give this test 100% of your focus and your effort. If you do not know the first five questions do not worry. Do not panic. Just look at number six and give it every ounce of energy you have. Make this how you live your life. Whatever you are doing in the moment give it all of your energy and effort. Smile even when things are difficult. If you have a positive attitude and give unrelenting effort, I guarantee success on this test and in your life.”
There is no doubt in life that anxiety affects performance. Some people thrive on anxiety. Pressure situations make them better. For most it does the opposite. Sports are a perfect example of this. Many players can make multiple foul shots in practice. But in a game situation when there is not much time left on the clock and the crowd is yelling, all of a sudden the basket looks a lot smaller.
My goal as a teacher is to do my absolute best to take as much pressure off of my students as I possibly can, especially before important events. By telling them to focus on attitude and effort I give them something completely in their control. As soon as they start taking the test, watch your students closely. Figure out which ones need pep talks during the test. Obviously you cannot give them the answers but you can get in their ear and tell them not to quit. I often say, “I can see that you are struggling right now. You have no idea what you are doing on this test, right? Do not quit. In life nobody likes quitters. Failing is fine. In fact, failing is part of success. Many of the most successful people in life failed multiple times before they succeeded. But none of them quit. Do not quit.” Often teachers that proctor a test will not say anything to kids. This is like a coach coaching his players hard during practice and then saying nothing during a game. Never be afraid to give motivational talks during the test. The kids you are giving the talks to are probably failing anyway. You have nothing to lose.
Remember, attitude, effort, and you are never allowed to quit, and I promise good things will happen.