How to stop stressing about surprise tests - Life More Extraordinary with Lucy Parsons

How to stop stressing about surprise tests

Sometimes, young people will be set ‘surprise' tests, only being given 24 or 48 hours notice that they're going to happen. For the most conscientious students this can be a really stressful experience, and that stress will often be transferred onto their parents.

In this article, I'm going to help you to feel less stressed about surprise tests by:

  • Giving you some context around why tests are sprung on your child in this way
  • What your child can do to be ready for their surprise tests, even though they don't get much warning
  • How your teachers will be looking at the results, and how you should look at them too

How to stop stressing about surprise tests

One of our very conscientious academic coaching clients was getting very stressed about surprise tests. Their coach, Helen Chaplain, helped them with a strategy for how to deal with these tests and that's what I'm going to outline for you here today.

What's the context of surprise tests?

I can remember when I was at school being set tests and even coursework with very short notice. As I really wanted to do well at school it was really disconcerting to feel that I was being assessed on things without due time to prepare.

Having been a teacher, and hearing what goes on in schools from other teachers, I now know that surprise tests are often set as surprises for a reason.

What's going on when a test is sprung on you?

This real-life anecdote is helpful in explaining what's going on with a surprise test – I've anonymised it to protect people!

A student comes home stressed out because their school has set a test for the next day, they've got other pieces of homework or even coursework to do, and they don't see how they can prepare properly for the test without staying up all night.

Meanwhile, their teacher is stressed because their Head of Department has suddenly demanded an assessment on the latest unit of work they've been doing. They don't want to pass the stress on to their students and make them put undue work into the test so they only give them a day's notice.

Why has the Head of Department suddenly demanded this assessment? Probably, the Senior Leadership Team of the school is asking for up to date assessments. And, at the time of writing during the third coronavirus lockdown, all layers of school management are still in the dark about how GCSE and A-Level grades will be assessed and awarded and they are trying to play it safe in having enough points of evidence to put forward to justify every child's grade – just in case that's the way grades are awarded.

So, the stress starts at the top of the school and trickles all the way down to the students and their parents who don't fully understand the context of this surprise test.

The other thing to remember is that frequent recall practice over longer periods of time is the best preparation for exams. Therefore, if students often have mini-tests or quizzes their brains will be better at retrieving and using everything they're learning in preparation for exams.

How to do your best in surprise tests

If your child wants to do their best in surprise tests there are several long-term strategies that will set them up for short-term success in surprise tests.

1. Focus in lessons so they have a complete set of notes and a full understanding

2. Do their best with their homework so, again, there are no gaps in their notes

3. Revise as they're going along. Some great tips for this are:

There is more detail on how to create revision habits in the Hone Your Habits module in The Extraordinaries Club, and more on how to revise and learn in the Optimise Your Revision Techniques module.

The important thing to take from this is that your child should be revising as they go along, not just to be ready for surprise tests but to take the pressure off when they get to ‘revision season‘ at the end of the school year.

The results reflect the circumstances of the test

When your child's teachers look at the results of a surprise test they will know exactly how much notice your child had about the test and what was done in class to help them get ready. This means that they'll understand if the results aren't brilliant.

You and your child should recognise the circumstances surrounding the test as well and be a bit more forgiving if the marks are lower than you'd have liked because you weren't given much notice.

It's a learning journey

Building up to GCSE or A-Level exams is a learning journey. If you see surprise tests as part of that journey and think about what you can learn from the experience of each one as you go along your child will have a much healthier relationship with their studies.

So, after each tests reflect on:

  • What they did to prepare e.g. how they revised and over how long a period of time
  • How that can be improved on for next time

If students make small but steady improvements to the way they're studying each week through the academic year they'll have moved a long way in their capabilities in a relatively short space of time – and grown as people simultaneously.

What you need to remember about surprise tests (a summary)

  • Remember that there's probably more than meets the eye to the reason behind this surprise test – and you'll never be told what's going on behind the scenes in order to ‘protect' you. (Whether you're really protected by ignorance is another conversation…)
  • Your child should be aiming to do their best with the time they have available. If your child has only got 20 minutes to prepare for this test don't stress – that's what they've got and their teachers will know that they didn't have much time to prepare
  • Your teen's teachers will look at their results in context i.e. that there wasn't much time to prepare. That's how you and your child should look at the results too.

Over to you…

I hope this article has helped you to support your child with a healthy mindset towards surprise tests, and some study strategies that mean that surprise tests aren't as stressful when they are suddenly announced. If you're looking for more help with study skills and how to cultivate good study habits, check out The Extraordinaries Club, my online hub for families in the exam years where I teach the study skills, mindset and habits to help GCSE and A-Level students to reach their full academic potential.

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