At Blue Train we hear these words all the time. Sometimes it’s directly from the students, while other times it’s whispered by the parents as though their son or daughter has contracted leprosy. Either way, it usually elicits a smile from us. Not because we are sadistic meanies who enjoy watching students crash and burn on standardized tests, but rather because we understand that bad test taking is not a terminal disease. In fact, it is quite curable. We should know, we’ve been healing ‘bad testers’ for over fifteen years.
To start, we need to understand that even though poor test taking habits can be traced back to third grade times tables paralysis, the condition is rarely genetic (or unchangeable.) Sure, there can be genetic obstacles—processing speed, dyslexia, ADHD, etc.—but those aren’t the cracks that cause the tester to fall apart. In the vast majority of cases, the fissures are more insidious, like disorganized thinking, ‘perfectionist pacing’, endurance fade, all of which can be traced back to: yep, anxiety.
So let’s talk about test anxiety, which comes in many forms. For some it is as you would expect: clammy hands, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, occasional screaming dry heave that scares nearby testers (we kid, we kid.) But yes, for many, the signs are clear but they feel powerless against them. For others, they feel nothing but calmness when they sit and take a test, yet when they get it back, more often than not there is an abundance of “careless errors.” Truth is there’s more to these errors than meets the eye. They are often not so much careless as the result of what we at Blue Train call “test lens”, a calmed state of mind that some testers use to deal with the pressure of the test, which works very well in its calming, but at the same time leaves students in a bit of a surface trance, where they unblinkingly multiply 3 x 4 to get 7. Or bubble in an answer to a different question than what was asked, giving the value for Y rather than X. Some students hardly ever do this, whereas for others it is all too familiar.
So what does it all mean, and how can it be fixed? First of all, it helps to realize how common and natural all these reactions are. Let’s face it—being judged under timed conditions, with an outcome that will affect your life—it makes sense that the human being in us rebels. Some of us sweat, others get too cool. Either way, both groups need to train themselves to become more efficiently engaged in the moment. At Blue Train, we encourage students to avoid lingering on any questions on first pass, to build a bank of time by moving faster than is comfortable, to make clear and active eliminations with their pencils, to always redo computations rather than read through old work, to hone your techniques until they are second nature, to work your hardest to the end, every time.
Of course, these are just a few simple performance tips. The majority of testing ability comes in the preparation, which should be done slowly and calmly. Build your strength without the clock, without the score. That’s right, prep is not about taking your score temperature every three weeks. It’s about working away your skill weaknesses in a safe environment until you are ready to make it a competition with the clock. Then you employ all the rules, or as we like to call them the commandments, of good test-taking and before long you will be more fully engaged and raising your scores.
At Blue Train, we groom our students through the process from skill building to test techniques to speed and performance drills. It is often a slow and steady maturation over the arc of three tests (in most cases.) Whether you work with us, alone, or another company it is critical to assess each testing performance and see what can be learned from it. Look beyond the score for the trends and pitfalls. If any of our Blue Trainers feel they have hit a performance wall, they should consult their tutor or contact the office so we can work with you to proactively address the situation and get you back on track. Very likely there will be bumps and bouts of anxiety along the way, but every year we make it our mission to get every single Blue Trainer up and over the hill—and leave all those ‘bad testing’ selves behind in the dust… Choo choo!