A lot of students have test anxiety. How do we change test-taking so that we’re creating a comfortable environment for our students to show what they really know? A strategy called Test Talk, which the author of this article co-created, has helped her students relax during exams.
One of my favorite hobbies is listening to students talk about math. On test days, I walk around the classroom listening to pre-test conversations, and they’re some of the best mathematical conversations I’ve ever heard.
For example, the test question below was to write a number sentence for each figure and to find the equation of growth for Figure n.
As I listened in, I heard comments like these (I’m paraphrasing):
As these students shared their methods, I saw other students listening intently, asking clarifying questions to really understand the math, which is always a plus.
When I asked my students for their opinion about this approach, one of them said, “I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I’ve had my fair share of experiences where I question absolutely everything I know in the few minutes before a test. The five-minute Test Talk gives me an opportunity to double- or triple-check my uncertainties with my classmates to give me more confidence and to settle my nerves before taking a test.
There are many benefits to Test Talk: lowered anxiety, better energy in the room, better products, and great discussions. There are, however, some concerns about this strategy. For example, some teachers are hesitant because it might help to students who didn’t study—and that might encourage them to not study in the future.
Overall, I think of it this way: If I’m concerned that students will solve all the problems in five minutes, how can I make the test better so there’s deeper thinking involved?