Are Reading Tests Dangerous?

Education & Technology

Reading Comprehension Tests

Are Tests Dangerous
Anxiety consists of fear and uncertainty. Anxiety has its good and bad sides. On the one hand, it helps avoid dangerous events that can be life threatening. On the other hand it causes people to freeze as they avoid non-dangerous situations. The mind cannot distinguish between what is life threatening or just a stressful situation. One such event that causes minds to freeze, but is not dangerous taking tests. Taking tests is not a dangerous situation. So what can we do to help learners avoid stress? What can be done to trick the mind into believing that testing is not dangerous?

Test Stress Management
The aim of stress management is to break the link between irrelevant stress reactions (diffused attention, fear, etc.) and academic tasks. There is a definite relationship between anxiety and academic reading performance on English as a second language comprehension tests. I conducted an action research study so that I can learn and develop material to prepare students for reading comprehension tests. I began breaking down the problem. I observed English as a second and foreign language learners. I noticed that students looked anxious while taking reading comprehension tests.

Stress Relievers
My plan was to use stress relievers to trick the mind into believing there is no danger. I decided to teach my EFL students  stress management to relieve anxiety when doing reading comprehension tests. I believed that once students are relaxed they will be able to perform better.

Foreign language anxiety is based on irrational beliefs.  I needed to gain a better understanding of what my students experience in the classroom. I learned that anxiety in the class is related to test anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, and communication apprehension. According to the literature, there is a correlation between emotional discomfort such as worry, feelings of being overwhelmed, and the unpleasant physical sensations of anxiety that prevents students from paying attention in class and performing class and homework tasks. English language learners cannot perform under pressure.


Inability or Stress?
Dealing with phonetics and reading comprehension is a tough job for ESL learners. A study done on the phonological working memory and reading in test anxiety situation, demonstrated that anxious students showed poorer comprehension than non-anxious ones. Anxiety and reading comprehension performance can be misleading. At times many other variables enter the picture. Many ESL learners also have reading disabilities that may be stress oriented. According to Karen Woodman, a linguistics professor at the University of New England in Australia, the challenge teachers need to face is to decide when a student’s problem relates to learning English, and when it is a disability.

Anxiety over tests makes parents nervous. Children’s anxiety is reflected by how their parents react to the child’s performance on tests. Parents are models on how their children feel. Parents should make sure their child doesn’t equate …grades on a specific test with being … smart. Tests don’t evaluate how good a student or person is…efforts and confidence do.

Test taking doesn’t have to lead to test anxiety. So why does it?
Fear of failure is what stops students from performing well on tests. It’s a vicious circle. The test-anxious person generally believes that not succeeding on a test means he or she will be judged unworthy This feeling of unworthiness translates into increased test anxiety which in turn lowers  his or her performance on the test. Parents can double their children’s chances of being anxious unless they learn how to manage their own anxieties. There are many ways to manage anxieties. Tests are not going to go away. Learning good test-taking thoughts and behaviors will help children keep a healthy perspective about tests, better control anxiety during tests and help to perform at a more successful level because they are not crippled by anxiety.

Positive Thinking Empowers
Positive thinking is a very powerful means of turning thoughts of failure into thoughts of success. A study done at St. Clement school in Boston has a positive “affirmation program” which has “affected school performance and attitude . Teachers encourage students to silently say their affirmations throughout the day. The children’s grades have gone up as a result of these affirmations. Is there a connection between positive statements and relaxations? Can relaxations improve academic scores? Is there a connection between relaxation and school performance?

A study done on the relationship between exposure to a relaxation response curriculum and academic achievement …examined … middle school students” to see if there was a connection between school performance and relaxation exercises. Teachers were trained in how to teach relaxation response exercises and self-care strategies to their students. The results of the study showed that students who had more exposures to the relaxation response curriculum showed an improvement in academic scores over the course of a two-year period. This indicates that relaxation exercises are an excellent way to relieve anxiety. A Hollywood school incorporates yoga instruction in classes. Many school districts across the the USA are examining yoga as a physical education option, and also to ease tension in stressed-out children. The school has had better grades as a result. San Francisco schools are using “yoga to calm and collect students.


Blowing Bubbles

Dr. Christophersen uses a “bubble” technique to teach children that slow, even breathing can relieve anger and stress. Blowing bubbles is like doing breathing exercises. Breathing exercises are useful techniques to calm exam jitters. More and more teachers are taking the initiative and teaching children how to relax before a test . Is this only a teachers’ responsibility? Is it enough to learn to relax only in school? Who else should be involved?

The best predictor of how a child will cope with stress is how the parents cope. Parents can be role models for their children. Their reactions can teach their children stress management or mismanagement. If a stressed mother slams the door and throws down her keys, she is teaching her child one way to relieve stress…If she goes out for a jog, mediates or practices yoga, she is teaching other ways.

Test anxiety affects every student…at least occasionally. ESL learners exhibit anxiety when doing reading comprehension tests. The reasons have been stated. Positive thinking and encouraging words will go a long way to helping relieve stress. Relaxation exercises will trick students’ minds into believing that they are relaxed learners. Dangers will disappear. As relaxed learners they will be able to score normal. Students will feel relaxed when doing reading comprehension tests. I suggest teaching students the techniques of positive affirmations, stress relievers and yoga breathing exercises to help them perform better on reading comprehension tests. 

Reading can be easy

Technology Can Help
Computers can help students focus on their own work and not be distracted by their peers. They also allow teachers to walk around and help others relax and focus on the task rather than on their fear of test taking.


Dr. Nellie Deutsch

Dr. Nellie Deutsch is an education technology and curriculum consultant, faculty at Atlantic University in the MA transpersonal and leadership studies, teacher trainer, researcher, and writer. She organizes Moodle MOOCs and online conferences. She earned her doctorate in education and educational leadership with a specialization in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix Her dissertation research (available on ProQuest & Amazon) focused on instructor experiences with integrating technology in blended learning contexts in higher education around the world. Nellie offers free teacher training courses on teaching with technology, action research and Moodle for teacher courses to new, veteran, and future teachers who wish to teach online, face-to-face or in blended learning formats. She also provides online courses to teachers and ICT people on how to be administrators of Moodle websites. She integrates Moodle and WizIQ live virtual classes in all her courses.

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