How to Manage Stress During Standardized Testing: Teachers & Students

American students take more than 100 million standardized tests every year.[1] With these tests often playing a significant role in assessing student performance and teachers’ abilities, there is significant value in learning how to manage stress during standardized testing.[2] Stress can negatively affect students and teachers, even contributing to health problems that range from headaches to depression.[3] Although stress is sometimes unavoidable, those suffering from its negative effects can prevent it from interfering with academic success (particularly during testing season) and with their lives in general by learning to utilize coping methods.[4]

Analyzing the Effects of Standardized Testing on Students

The effects that standardized testing stress has on students can differ based upon the way in which a student responds to the stress.[5] Some individuals display a positive response to stressful situations, reacting in a way that drives them to meet the challenges that they face, while others exhibit negative responses that include mental and physical signs of the condition.[6] Students’ negative responses to stress are attributed, in part, to the manner in which tests are administered, which often involves the creation of strict environments that differ greatly from the structure of students’ usual learning environments.[7] One of the major mental effects of standardized testing on students is anxiety, which causes students to become nervous and often underperform in spite of their academic abilities.[8] Studies have shown that students that suffer anxiety in greater amounts produced low scores on exams, whereas those that had less anxiety were found to score higher on exams. Signs of stress that are sometimes displayed by students during standardized testing include disappointment, anger, helplessness, and fear.[10]

Teachers are sometimes able to recognize these signs of stress in students, as they may differ from typical behavior that students express during day-to-day instruction. Some teachers have stated that they witnessed burnout, fatigue, misbehavior, and even physical illness among other negative responses to stress induced by testing.[11]

The Effects of Standardized Testing on Teachers: A Balancing Act

Although standardized tests are administered to students, their effects are often felt by teachers as well.[12] With a recent study finding that teachers spend 30 percent of their time on preparation and testing, teachers must cope with the challenge of balancing a well-rounded curriculum with the responsibility for equipping students for upcoming standardized tests.[13] Educator responses to this balance of core curriculum and test preparation vary, just as student responses to exams can vary, with some expressing positive or neutral opinions of the school testing structure and others feeling as though testing interferes by narrowing the curriculum, restricting flexibility, and disrupting the pace with which educational material is covered.[14]

Learning How to Manage and Prevent Stress during Standardized Testing

There are a number of coping methods that have been identified as being beneficial in helping individuals manage their stress levels. Recognizing which methods work best from person-to-person and referring to them when a challenging situation arises is an effective way to prevent future symptoms of stress from occurring.[15] An example of an effective coping method is the use of specific stress management techniques, which can prove to be beneficial for students and teachers in the classroom, and in students’ daily lives.[16]

Creative endeavors such as painting or writing are helpful stress management techniques for some individuals, whereas others find relief from stress with physical activities, such as deep breathing and meditation.[17] Young students have been found to respond well to receiving books, stickers, or even encouraging messages, helping them to relax between testing.[18]

Other methods for preventing stress during standardized testing include establishing a calm learning environment through discussion, and practicing time management skills by timing students during select tests, allowing them to become accustomed to performing within a strict time limit.[19]

The Importance of Coping with Exam Stress at the Classroom Level

In order to prevent and reduce future occurrences of standardized testing stress, teachers and students can practice these coping methods to find which is most effective within their classroom setting. Currently, standardized testing often begins for students as early as Kindergarten. Thus, students will face a number of exam scenarios capable of causing stress over the course of their school careers.[20] Acknowledging the issue of stress and preparing to cope with the condition is a crucial part of avoiding the physically and mentally toxic symptoms that can result from long-term testing and exam-induced stress.[21] However, it’s important to note that students and teachers do not have to continue to suffer from the chronic stress brought on by standardized testing. With the appropriate stress management solutions in place, teachers and students are more likely to experience emotional well-being and academic success during standardized testing.[22]


[1]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[2]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[3]“The Effects of Stress on Your Body.” Webmd.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body on July 1, 2016.

[4]Stress Management – Ways to Avoid Stress.” Webmd.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-avoiding-unnecessary-stress on July 1, 2016.

[5]“The Powerful Impact of Stress.” Jhu.edu. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Keeping%20Fit%20for%20Learning/stress.html on July 1, 2016.

[6]“The Powerful Impact of Stress.” Jhu.edu. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Keeping%20Fit%20for%20Learning/stress.html on July 1, 2016.

[7]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[8]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[9]“Relationship Between Anxiety and Standardized Patient Test Performance in the Medicine Clerkship” Nih.gov. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1484796/ on July 1, 2016.

[10]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[11]“The Impact of High-Stakes Exams on Students and Teachers.” Nysed.gov. Retrieved from http://www.oms.nysed.gov/faru/TheImpactofHighStakesExams_files/The_Impact_of_High-Stakes_Exams.pdf on July 1, 2016.

[12]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[13]“The Psychological Effects of Too Much Testing” Psychcentral.com. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/07/20/the-psychological-effects-of-too-much-testing/ on July 1, 2016.

[14]“The Impact of High-Stakes Exams on Students and Teachers.” Nysed.gov. Retrieved from http://www.oms.nysed.gov/faru/TheImpactofHighStakesExams_files/The_Impact_of_High-Stakes_Exams.pdf on July 1, 2016.

[15]“Common Coping Responses for Stress – Topic Overview.” Webmd.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/common-coping-responses-for-stress-topic-overview on July 1, 2016.

[16]“Help Students De-Stress for Success.” Edutopia.org. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/help-students-de-stress-success on July 1, 2016.

[17]“Common Coping Responses for Stress – Topic Overview.” Webmd.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/common-coping-responses-for-stress-topic-overview on July 1, 2016.

[18]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[19]“Take Out Your No. 2 Pencils: Taking the Stress Out of Standardized Tests.” Scholastic.com. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/assessment/take_out_pencils.htm on July 1, 2016.

[20]“Standardized Tests: Making Our Students and Teachers Sick?” USnews.com. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/11/16/standardized-tests-making-our-students-and-teachers-sick on July 1, 2016.

[21]“Tip Sheets – Exam Stress.” Parentline.com.au. http://www.parentline.com.au/parenting-information/tip-sheets/exam-stress.php on July 1, 2016.

[22]“Help Students De-Stress for Success.” Edutopia.org. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/help-students-de-stress-success on July 1, 2016.



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