Spoiler Alert, There Are No Shortcuts to Confidence Building

Anxiety and a lack of test-taking confidence affects many students, but having a learning difficulty compounds that. As long as schools continue to test learners, the phenomenon of test anxiety will be a “serious educational problem,” say scientists.

The psychological elements of worry, emotionality, cognition interference, and a lack of personal and learning confidence all come into play as well as physiological elements.

This article will explore what parents of children with learning difficulties can do to help build their confidence in test-taking.

What builds confidence

Confidence to tackle tests has to aspects – (1) being able to rely on strong reading and learning fundamentals, a given for most children, and (2) consciously building self-regulation as a learner.

Fundamentals First

For children who have encounter learning and reading delays early in life, there is no faking it.  If your child’s reading and learning skills are not where they need to be, she knows it.  No amount of pep talks can get around that deep-seated self-understanding.

And so, far and away, the #1 way to build test-taking confidence is to help your child address delays cognitive and reading fundamentals.  We are biased here of course, as Gemm Learning provides programs that tackles auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, ADHD and other learning and reading difficulties at their source.  If the learning foundation is in place, then reading is faster and more accurate, focus is easier and working memory, such an important aspect of test-taking, particularly multiple-choice test taking, is better.

The reason so many Gemm Learning students see a dramatic increase in their grades is not because we changed their IQ.  It’s that Gemm Learning programs helped their fundamentals and made them better test-takers.

Other Confidence-Boosting Factors

For all students, other important factors include:

  • Motivation to succeed
  • Setting goals
  • Self-esteem
  • Aspiration levels
  • Self-efficacy
  • Self-confidence
  • Engagement, and
  • Self-concept.

Personality-wise, you’re relying on your child’s characteristics of flexibility, independence, and reliability, oh, and their Growth Mindset. That’s a lot personal qualities and competencies to draw upon.

Helping test and exam prep

Here are ways you can support your K-12 child with learning difficulties feel prepared, boosting test-taking confidence:

  • Psyche them up for tests. Encourage them to plan and write the upcoming test date on a calendar they’ll regularly see. Help them break down their study and revision in chunks to help build knowledge. Think of ‘bits of knowledge’ they can snack on over the days and weeks to become more comfortable with the content.
  • Beat the Forgetting Curve. This theory has stood the test of time and holds for children and adults alike. Once you learn something new, you’ll forget 40% of it in 20 minutes if you don’t revise it; 70% by two days and 90% by a month. These statistics should prompt you to build in regular reviews, asking your child to actively regurgitate what they’ve learned (write it in their own words or tell you) at regular intervals.
  • Work on flashcards: They could be handwritten in color on cardboard, or you could explore customized digital flashcards to help them memorize information. The questions are on one side, and the solution’s on the back, so it feels like play, not work. Flashcards tick the box for spaced repetition of learning and revising to ensure knowledge sticks. That’s because students can self test their knowledge, identify their misconceptions, and build long-term memory[4]. Try the free web tool Quizlet (http://quizlet.com).
  • Facing the fears: Find an opportune moment during some downtime to find out how they’re feeling about test-taking. What are their fears, and what solutions might they like to try?
  • Relaxation techniques: This might be as simple as mindful breathing through their nose, which allows better diaphragmatic (and deeper) breathing than through their mouth.
  • Reward them for keeping on track with practice: Discuss with your child how they would like to be rewarded for chipping away at their test prep plan.
  • Use visualization: Encourage your child to imagine what it will be like to sit the test, where they will be, the sights, sounds, how they will feel. Depending on their age, ask them to draw themselves seated in the test environment and what they would feel like if they thought they did well. How do they picture academic success in their mind’s eye?
  • Shutting down? Take time: Chances are your child might become a ‘shut down learner’. Check out one of our other blog posts for how to deal with that.
  • Impress upon them what the result means: Urge your child not to equate performance and ability level with their self-worth. That’s why, often, a lack of confidence becomes low self-esteem.
  • College entrance exams: See one of our other blog posts about how to help your child prepare for these tests.

Would more test time help?

While the above are things you can do with your child, there may be more assistance possible in the test environment. Depending on the skill and competency of knowledge being tested, sometimes more test time may be needed. A review of research[5] into the impact of granting students with specific learning difficulties extra exam time had this to say.

“The investigation found no consensus of opinion. However, a pattern does emerge across all the studies as a whole, which suggests that the differences in outcome may be explained by differences in the appropriateness of the time limits imposed by each study.”

The researchers were focusing on post-secondary education, but their findings could have relevance for K-12.

Alternatives to tests

For learners with high barriers to testing situations, there may be options to negotiate with their teacher about assessment options that are more accessible. After all, chances are the teaching and learning for your child has been differentiated to adjust for their learning difficulties. That’s a strong argument for the test to be more appropriate to them and to help them demonstrate authentic learning. How can the assessment be structured to allow them to experience success in their learning?

Your child’s teacher would be aware of a global movement for more project-based and real-world learning in today’s K-12 classrooms. Proponents argue it better prepares students for the workforce – it helps them build confidence and learn employability skills. Could your child’s test take on this flavor?

A holistic approach

You’d know test preparation isn’t just about practicing the relevant skills. Regular and sufficient sleep patterns, a healthy diet, reduced stress in other facets of your child’s life, and time for recreation and relaxation all play into building their confidence at test time.

So, there are many things you, as a parent, can do to help your child build confidence in tests and exams.

Consider, also, the ways the Gemm Learning may be able to support you through online learning your child can do at home to build their skills. Our neuroscience-powered programs help reading fluency and comprehension, first and foremost.  Fast ForWord, the primary intervention used by Gemm Learning, works on a range of cognitive skills that help test-taking –  attention stamina, processing, reading and math skills.