How to Motivate Students Before & After Testing

Since the passing of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the subsequent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), high-stakes testing has become a reality in our learning environments. Today, K-12 students at almost every grade level are required to take standardized tests in specific areas and in specific subjects. Districts and schools receive accountability reports every school year relating to those test results that often lead to strategic changes in budget, personnel, curriculum, instruction, and programs.

Additionally, schools make important, data-informed decisions that directly affect students. These decisions might include requiring some students to repeat a grade, preventing some students from graduating from high school, mandating certain curricula and instruction based on prescribed interventions/remediation, and rewarding or sanctioning schools.

When students don’t achieve sufficient results, they are often required to participate in targeted interventions before retaking the tests until they successfully pass them or are exempt for specific reasons. One of these high-stakes test is the STAAR/EOC for students in grades third to high school.

Needless to say, many are the stressors faced by students and teachers when dealing with high-stakes testing.

In an effort to understand how teens experience and are impacted by stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) surveyed teens ages 13 to 17 living in the United States. Respondents reported stress levels far above what the researchers viewed as healthy, and on average, teen-reported stress levels higher than adult-reported stress levels (APA, 2014).

Understanding the impact of this stress on the learning environment, employing motivational coaching for school leaders, teacher and leadership coaching, encouragement, and support tactics to help teachers and students overcome test anxiety is critical to achieving success. Specifically, combining standards-aligned, engaging, and rigorous instruction with regular practice tests and/or benchmarks can help students and teachers work together to tackle the effect of any learning disruptions, develop and practice test-taking strategies, and manage test anxiety/stress.

It is crucial for teachers to be intentional when encouraging and motivating students before and after testing – not only for the students' sake! Teachers work tirelessly all year long. Knowing that testing results will be used in part to assess teachers' performance, the benefits of quelling student test anxiety are extensive. Coaching teachers in effective, time-tested standardized test preparation techniques, stress management ideas for students, and self-care methods for themselves, will provide rewards in successful student test results and pride in their personal education achievement.

Students are also aware of the realities of how testing results will be used as a yardstick to measure their academic performance and to make decisions about their educational future. So, while providing students with high-quality instruction and appropriate and timely interventions is important, it is equally important tmotivate, encourage, and celebrate students before and after testing.

Encouraging Students and Teachers

Create a Supportive Environment

Motivating both teachers and students requires creating a supportive environment that promotes open communication throughout the school community. Potentially stressful situations such as an impending standardized test offers opportunities for growth rather than panic-inducing challenges when approached through positive thinking patterns. Encourage them to visualize success and remind themselves of their capabilities and strengths.

Provide Supportive Resources

In addition to fostering positive mental attitudes, offering helpful resources such as study guides or interactive learning tools via websites or apps is invaluable in preparing for exams successfully. Experienced teacher coaches may provide personalized coaching sessions specifically aimed at preparing new educators for managing standardized testing effectively.

Motivating Students Before Testing:

  • Encourage students to get plenty of sleep before test day, including the weekend preceding the test.
  • Share stress management techniques to help students relax, decompress, and stay focused on the days leading up to testing.
  • Define the test reality by talking to and guiding students through what really is at stake with each test.
  • Identify and communicate high yet realistic (and differentiated!) expectations.
  • Empower students to set their own short-terms goals and celebrate every achievement. 
  • Setting achievable performance targets is essential. Breaking these goals down into smaller milestones helps students feel a sense of progress throughout their test preparation. 
  • Build a culture of success and celebration around testing, rather than a culture of fear.
  • Focus on engaging students in developing and understanding the value of life-ready skills, in school and in life. 
  • Teach students this mantra: “For success, attitude is as important as ability.” 
  • Provide great Tier I instruction and appropriate and timely interventions. 
  • Work strategically and intentionally throughout the school year on building self-esteem, confidence, and personal and school pride.
  • Make time to regularly share inspirational messages, videos, and stories with students.

Motivating Students After Testing:

  • Share each student's testing results with them before helping them celebrate their accomplishments and identify areas in need of improvement and support.
  • Don’t just focus on pass/fail! Focus on students’ strengths and goal-setting to improve challenging areas.
  • Create a recognition system to celebrate every success, big and small.
  • Encourage students who are not "there yet” to understand and embrace The Power of Yet.
  • Beyond just pretest support, feedback following exams is crucial in preparing for future tests and further developing classroom skills.
  • Review assessment results and develop a data-informed instruction plan for your classroom and instruction moving forward. 
  • Continue building students’ self-esteem, test-taking strategies, and academic knowledge.

What are your favorite ways to motivate students? Share with us on Twitter!