Let’s face it: test-taking can be overwhelming – for the student and the teacher. It doesn’t help when your students don’t understand why they are taking standardized tests. The truth is standardized tests aren’t the enemy. Preparing for tests in the traditional way is the real culprit for testing stress. Without extending meaning to tests and the testing experience, it is almost impossible to motivate students to perform well.

Think about the student perspective. Not only do they have to sit silently for hours bubbling in the answers to test questions, they aren’t always sure what they have to gain from standardized testing.  The truth is this is a valuable learning experience for students. One that you can use to teach them an important lesson about college and the college application process.

Who Motivates You?

Two researchers in Chicago did an interesting experiment on test-taking students right before they began their tests. A message was written on the board in third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade classes prior to taking a standardized assessment. The message asked students to do well for themselves, their parents, and their teacher. The people listed in the message were in capitalized font. Stephen Brown of Northeastern Illinois University and Herbert J. Wallberg of the University of Chicago/Illinois found that students who were in the classrooms with the motivational message scored, on average, 12 percentile points higher than students in classrooms that did not receive this message.

Linking success to advancement toward a greater goal could greatly increase the desire to take testing seriously. One clear link for high schoolers is knowing they will take the SAT, a standardized test that leads them to college.


If you have a class newsletter or a class website, use it! Use it early and often to remind students of the importance of taking testing seriously. In a line or two from the start of the school year, make sure that your students begin to learn why it is important that they demonstrate their knowledge on standardized tests. Advertising gives you an opportunity to share with parents why these tests are important. Having parental support can go a long way in ensuring that your students show up ready to test.

Advertising also includes sample tests and practice filling out testing forms. The Principal’s Partnership suggests creating mock testing environments and having students practice various test forms as classroom exercises. This could be as simple as creating a quiz in the format of your state standardized test. You can also compare the format of the test to the common college admissions tests.

Make it Comfortable

Acknowledge that it is hard to take standardized tests. You might even share your own experience with testing as a child or as an adult. To ease the pressure and to help develop interest in the test-taking process, make testing mornings special for your students. Ask volunteers to bring snacks or breakfast. Feeling cared for – in the physical sense – may motivate students to work hard for those who have taken the time to provide for their care. Another option is to make the testing environment pleasant. Change the decor, play music (if it’s allowed), or create a pleasant scent in the room. Make sure the lighting and temperature are comfortable. Give the students room to work. If you are able to move their physical workspace away from that of their classmates, give them the opportunity to spread out.

Beyond the physical environment, the  Principal’s Partnership also suggests creating a testing environment that students are used to – model the thinking skills they will use during the test throughout the school year. Let them take tests with a familiar teacher and teach them relaxation techniques.

Incentivize and Motivate

While it is somewhat controversial to tie test performance to classroom grades, consider this strategy (if your district allows it). The National Research Center of the Gifted and Talented uses anecdotal evidence to describe the ways that incentives motivate students to perform well.  You can create incentives for showing up early or being patient during transitions between tests. You can provide a classroom treat if all students show up and complete all sections of the test. Or use a system to create incentives and prizes for the best scores in each subject. It can be difficult to create incentives without creating unhealthy competition, so consider the students in your classroom and their personalities. If they can handle some friendly competition, use it to your advantage.

If you can create motivation by making the test-taking environment enjoyable for students, it may become less stressful for you as well. Think of yourself as part of the same team as your students. The connection will motivate them to perform well and may encourage you to develop strategies from their point of view.

Talk to Us!

Want to do even more to get your students to take testing seriously? Schedule a demo today to learn how LifePlan Labs can help motivate your students to achieve in all aspects of classroom life.

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