3 Quick and Easy Ways to Boost Test Scores

The season for high stakes testing is in full swing.  What would you do if you only have one day before the students take the test?  What if you only had 10 minutes before test time and you wanted to make sure your students perform their best?

Here are three Class Hacks that will boost test scores in 10 minutes or less.

1. Cure Test Anxiety through Affect Labeling


Test taking anxiety is something that plagues many students.  However, there is a way to calm down before the test. Simply being able to label our feelings and emotions can help regulate them and promote mental and physical well-being without even realizing it.

This technique is known as affect labeling and it causes the situation to be less disturbing when you label what is going on in your brain.

“This is because it inversely reacts to amygdala (lizard brain) and actually labels what is going on in your head. Thus, the fear is diminished because it is now not an “unknown.”

In a 2011 study, they found that students who wrote about test anxiety right before the test did better on the test.[i] Sian Beilock, author of the book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, and other researchers measured anxiety levels of 9th grade students about 6 weeks before their first final exam of their high school career.

Then immediately before the exam, students were given an envelope with directions. One group’s directions were to think about topics that weren’t covered on the exam and the second group’s directions were to write about their feelings about the upcoming test. Then the tests were graded. The results were astonishing!

There was a strong relationship between text anxiety and final exam performance.Generally, that the higher a student’s anxiety about taking the test, the worse the student performed.

However, according to Beilock,“for those students given the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about the upcoming test, the relation between test anxiety and exam performance was essentially non-existent.”[ii]

Students who wrote down their thoughts before the exam, earned an average of a B+. Those who didn’t write averaged a B-.

Affect labeling may enhance outcomes by increasing exposure to one’s own fear and anxiety. Such a process may be similar to mindfulness, in which one becomes more aware and accepting of ongoing experience, and for which data support its relationship to reduced amygdala (lizard, fear response part of brain) activity.”

  • Putting your thoughts and feelings into words gives them less power over your brain.
  • It increases the certainty of what is going on and allows the person to acknowledge the feeling, but accept it and move on.

Similar to mindfulness, being aware of what is going on and accepting it as an ongoing experience

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2.  Get Them Moving Before the Test


A 2015 study out of Iowa State University confirmed that short bursts of physical activity led to boosts in cognitive abilities.[iii] The elementary school students were given a test measuring cognitive function while sitting at a table and performed moderately intense but complex physical activity.

These activities included crab-walking and skipping around in circles. While the students were engaged in these activities, they answered math problems. Finally, they stopped the activity and were tested again.

“Just 10 minutes was enough to benefit the kids’ learning,” Spyridoula Vazou, the lead researcher, said. “The brain is healthier in the physically active body,” Ann Smiley-Oyen, a co-researcher, said.

They also discovered that the students solved their math problems just as well while moving as they did seated. Contrary to what happens in most classrooms, the activity did not diminish their academic abilities.

3. Give Them A Stick of Gum

Via Live Science:

The researchers tested 224 undergraduates from St. Lawrence University, dividing them into three groups. One chewed gum before and during the test, another chewed gum for five minutes before being tested and a third didn’t chew anything. The researchers then gave them a battery of tests to determine their brainpower.

They found that a burst of gum-chewing before testing improved a student’s performance on several of the tests, but only for a short period. The effect was strongest right after gum-chewing, and dropped to normal levels within 20 minutes. The gum-chewing helped during recall and memory tasks especially.

“Within the 15-to-20-minute ‘window’ of the effect, the chewing-gum group recalled 25-to-50-percent more items than the controls, which is statistically significant, ” Onyper said.

Your brain on gum

The researchers think that this improvement in brainpower is because the chewing warms up the brain, a phenomenon they call by the suggestive name “mastication-induced arousal.” This arousal turns the brain on just before test taking, and gets more blood (and therefore energy-giving sugar) flowing to the head.

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[i] Ramirez G, Beilock, SL. Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance
in the classroom. Science. 2011 Jan 14;331(6014):211-3.

[ii] Beilock, S. (2011, January 19). Worried About Performing Well Under Stress? Write It Out. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from https://cdn.psychologytoday.com/blog/choke/201101/worried-about-performing-well-under-stress-write-it-out

[iii] Iowa State study: Ten minutes of physical activity can improve kids’ learning. (2015, February 2). Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.hs.iastate.edu/news/2015/02/02/physical-activity-and-learning/

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