It’s spring, which means standardized testing season is upon us. Public school students in Nebraska will be taking Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System tests in English-language arts, math and, in some grade levels, science.

Testing puts a lot of pressure on teachers and students, but as an educator, there is one thing I tell my kids every single year: “It’s just a test.”

I make sure they know this single snapshot will never define who they are as a person. It’s important for parents, educators and most importantly students to understand that tests are just one data point to help us understand a student’s abilities.

Unfortunately, no matter how often we tell our students that “it’s just a test,” many come to school with test anxiety. I’ve taught for more than a decade, and whenever I have to take a test in grad school, I get nervous. I can only imagine how our children feel.

Fortunately, teachers and literacy experts have great advice for parents to help their children lessen their test taking anxieties and improve their test taking skills. Here are a few from children's author and literacy advocate Carew Papritz. 

1. Have regular study times. First, when it comes to any test, encourage your students to study throughout the unit or year instead of cramming. “Studying is not like breathing-it doesn’t come naturally,” Papritz said. “Starting regular study sessions a week or two in advance can eradicate the high-stress activity of cramming.”

2. Healthy kids are better test-takers. Having a healthy, low-sugar breakfast and a good night’s rest is not just a day-of-test activity. “Encourage good nutrition and healthy sleep habits on a daily basis,” Papritz said. Students may test at different times of day, so it’s also important to encourage them to eat a healthy lunch as well. Whether your child is bringing a cold lunch or eating a school lunch, eating protein, vegetables and fruits can help their brain stay focused.

3. Read for fun. Students often improve test scores just by reading. It’s not just about consuming nonfiction texts or grade-level text books either. Encourage your students to read things they enjoy! Do they love the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books? Don’t worry if it’s a little bit below their reading level; they’re reading and enjoying it! Not everything has to be academic. The best readers read for fun!

4. Talk about school (and other) stressors. Some of the best advice I have been given as a parent is to just listen. It’s in our nature to want to solve everything, but sometimes just being there is all our kids really need. “Take time to look at your children when they speak to you by putting aside any distraction,” Papritz said. “This shows them what it means to value others.” Additionally, talk to your kids about stress you experienced when you were their age. Let them know that sometimes you still get stressed. Talk to them about ways you use to manage stress in your life like deep breathing, meditation, talking to a friend, reading or exercise. Focus on positive ways to handle stress.

5. Never diminish what they are going through. “You’re just a kid; you don’t know what stress is” is the worst possible thing to say to a child with anxiety. Their perception is their reality. Help them cope by showing you empathize.

These tips can help your children feel more confident when it comes to test taking, but it’s still important to remember that state (or other) assessments are just tests. Your child is a cumulative total of their talents, heart and other attributes that far outweigh any test score. Encouraging them to try their best and not worrying about the outcome is the best thing you (and their teachers) can do.

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Jen Schneider is a local middle school teacher and mom to two children.

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