Tuesday Tips: Testing Does Not Have to Be Stressful or Scary!

This post is not to debate the merits of standardized testing. Some folks choose to test because they like the feedback, some decide not to test, and others test to meet state testing requirements. The pros and cons of those decisions vary by family and are a discussion for a different day.

Today I want to talk about ways to keep testing from becoming stressful and scary. We don’t want our children stressed out, and we also know that having them stressed out can often cause them not to perform to the best of their abilities.

Do Not Make Testing High Stakes

Excluding state requirements, these standardized tests should not be high stakes for our students. Do not pass or fail a student based on a single piece of information. As homeschool parents, we know far more about what our students have mastered than any one test can show. Have them do their best, certainly look at the results and use them to help inform your instruction, but they do not need to feel like their success or failure all rides on a test.

Discuss Discuss Discuss

While you cannot discuss the actual questions or content of the test, you can discuss the process. Discussion is especially important for young children who are not familiar with the test. Ensure that they understand how the test will work, the rules and procedures and that it is okay not to know all the answers. Their job is to do their best and show you what they know.

Feed the Hobbits

Of course, we feed the children every day, but I am very intentional when I meal plan around testing time. A high-protein breakfast to get them going and keep them energized. I plan an easy lunch so that I don’t have to spend too much time on meal prep and take away from testing time. Finally, I plan a fun snack for the end of testing each day. These treats do not have to be complicated but provide something to look forward to at the end of the testing period. Since we test in the spring, I often use treats like ice cream or popsicles.


We like to celebrate the end of testing. Sometimes we take a fun field trip the day after testing, and other years we have planned a family campfire or other fun activity. This year we are keeping it simple with a movie night and homemade pizza when we finish our testing. Overall, I want them to have something positive to associate with the testing and celebrate the completion of the test and not just scores.

Scores are Tools

My final tip is to look at scores as one tool in an extensive toolbox. We chose to use the IOWA test because I felt like the results were specific enough to be helpful to me in my planning. When the scores come back in, my husband and I meet with each child independently and discuss their results. If there is a weak area, we discuss our plans to help them improve in that area. We do not treat the scores like a success or failure on their part, merely a gauge of what they know and what we still need to teach.

Also, we do not share their results with anyone else. They are free to tell grandparents or siblings how they did, but we do not share those scores. This allows them to feel more confident in knowing that they are not being judged on their scores.

If your family participates in standardized testing, I would love to know your tips and tricks to keep testing from being stressful and scary.

Resource Library and Affiliate Disclosure

When you sign up for the Schoolin’ Swag free resource library, you will get a link and password to the library. We are adding to the library each month with new items. You will also get a bi-weekly newsletter email to keep you up to date on what we have going on.

Resource Library 

This post may contain affiliate or referral links, including Amazon affiliate links. I will never recommend a product that I don’t believe in, and you will never be charged more for purchasing through our links. It does help pay for the costs associated with the blog.

Of MRIs and Scantrons

mriI have a friend who recently had an MRI done. She mentioned how surprised she was at how any little movement could skew the results. Breathing too rapidly or too deeply could result in needing a re-do. And it got me to thinking…

Now, these are my opinions, of course. I’m not speaking for the entirety of the homeschooling community. This can be one of those “hot button” topics, so bear with me.

I’m not a fan of standardized testing. There. I said it. You may have as well.

I don’t believe that there is any kid who can tick off all the boxes to meet every benchmark of what a 2nd grader, 6th grader, or 11th grader… should be. This is why schools are loaded with kids who are “gifted” or, on the contrary, are judged to be sub-par and require remedial instruction. Are gifted kids gifted in everything? Not likely. They probably have areas which could do with some sharpening. Are sub-par kids underachievers in everything? Doubtful. A child who struggles terribly in writing and reading may be a mathematical prodigy. What I’ve found in over a decade of homeschooling is that kids are really…fluid. Changeable. Growing. Developing. A bit…subjective. 😉

Every child is a mixed bag of variables, all of which are developing at different rates. To suggest that every child should meet certain standards by a certain age simply isn’t fair or realistic.

So here is where my MRI connection comes in with standardized tests.

What if, on the day of your testing event, you have one (or more!) of the following coming into play? (Think of these as the fidgeting and things that blur the MRI results). What if your child:

  • Slept badly the night before
  • Ate Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast (yes, I know…”responsible” moms wouldn’t serve such a thing on such an important day…but things happen)
  • Has test anxiety issues
  • Has learning disabilities
  • Has chemical imbalances
  • Has behavioral struggles
  • Has had a difficult life event recently
  • Is easily distracted
  • Has processing disorders
  • Is wearing clothes with itchy tags (we have days when we can’t move forward until we get a change of clothes)
  • Hates the pencil he/she has to use
  • And the list goes on…

scantronSo now we have a testing event, upon which this child may be judged, placed, or otherwise assessed. It’s important. It goes “in the records”. And the cards may be badly stacked against him…for posterity. Unlike the MRI, there is no re-do.

So, do we just quit testing? No. I test our kids with the materials we are using at the time. They are evaluated through “formal” tests and quizzes as well as oral assessments, worksheets, and essays. The difference is, I know my kids better than a machine that scans pencil marks. I know what they ate. I know what they are strong in and what they need help with. I know when they are simply not trying their best, and when there is legitimately something going on that messes with their performance on a given day. I know my kids. I can raise the bar (or lower it to a more reasonable level) according to my awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.

teachermoreMy heart goes out to those who are awesome teachers (private, public, or home school) who know their kids, but their hands are tied because they are obligated to subject them to the cookie cutter tests. What’s more, when not only the student is judged by how he colors in the bubbles…but the teacher’s effectiveness is also judged by those results…well, my goodness. Things get very mixed up from there on. Teachers becoming the scapegoat for a child’s poor performance is rarely the right thing to do. We’ve all heard the phrase “teach the test”…and that is what happens in some classrooms, unfortunately. To save everyone’s skins. That’s not education.

I read recently in an educational article that “standardized tests measure a student’s ability to memorize information.” Is that education? I don’t believe so. Helping my kids to love learning and to want to continue it all their lives…that is part of my mission as a homeschooler, and what I believe is the essence of true education.

Case in point? This morning our 4th grader was eating her cereal at the table. Around her were: two reading books, a book on the solar system, a book on the history of flight, a book on antique automobiles, and her sketching pencils. I didn’t make her do that. She chose to surround herself with things that answered her questions. She has an inquiring mind. It wants to know. I believe kids are hard-wired this way, and we squelch it terribly when we reduce school to rote memorization of dates, names, and theorems.

Babies begin to learn before they can ever speak. They touch, they put everything in their mouths. They investigate. Toddlers ask question upon question. Our son asked “Mom, I have a question…” so often that I got him a notebook in which to write them down, so he could learn to find answers for himself…because moms know a lot, but we certainly don’t know everything!

You may be a homeschooler who is required to have your students take standardized evaluations. We’ve been there. All you can do is muddle through, fulfill your requirement, and try your best to help your kids come away from the experience unscathed. Don’t let it affect your passion for teaching and learning. Keep on keepin’ on! Let’s bring the beauty, individuality, and personality back to the educational experience. Let’s kindle that spark!