After all the housekeeping issues for the day were taken care of, I scanned the faces of the first period biology students looking at me. They were at the same time both incredibly still and quiet, and also clearly unsettled. Their dreaded TEST was upon them, and I know that feeling well. I glanced quickly at the clock and then leaned over to whisper in my cooperating teacher’s ear. “Do you mind if I say something to them? It will take three minutes?” She glanced at the clock, looked curiously at me, and said, “Sure, okay, three minutes.”
“Hi guys,” I said. “Can you show me on your hand, how you’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 5 about taking this test? 1 would be like, ‘pbshh, I got this’ and 5 would be like rocking yourself in a ball under your desk saying, ‘There’s no place like home….”.
Slowly hands went up, a few 2s changed quickly to 3s and I saw a lot of 4s and even some 5s. Sadly, it was what I had expected. I didn’t want them to be all tense like this. How could they be expected to think under so much anxiety? “Okay, that’s a little more anxious than I’d like,” I said. “Let me tell you something about my brain under stress.”
“A couple of mornings ago I was leaving my house at 5:30 and it is completely dark outside at that time. On this shoulder, I have my lunch bag, another bag with my computer in it, and the third bag with your bio book in it – which I can tell you is waaay too heavy! I’ve got my keys around my neck and in this hand I’m holding a cup of coffee and on my pinky finger is my bagel. As I approach my car I reach for my keys to unlock it and hit black ice. What do you think happened?”
Grinning, a student called out, “You fell!”
“Oh no I didn’t! You see my brain helped me; it told me to grab the car door, which I did. So what happened to my bagel?”
A couple students responded, “You dropped it!”
“That’s right. The dog was already running away with it! What about my coffee?”
They called out, “Oh it’s all over you!” And another student added, “And you dropped your bags!”
“Exactly, my brain went into high gear! It told me to survive, to protect myself, which is great. But when it does that, it makes you forget everything else! So I dropped my food and coffee and bags. I don’t want you to be so stressed right now that your brains drop everything else, because then you won’t be able to recall all the stuff you’ve been working so hard to learn. ”
“So before we take this test, try mustering the deepest, most empathetic, heart-feeling voice and turn to your partner and say with sincerity in your eyes, “Aw”, I tutted and sighed and shook my head a little. “I’m so sorry you have to take this test.”
And so it happened. They started to giggle which steadily built into laughter as the students tried it on each other. A couple of basketball players solemnly gripped each others’ shoulders as they said it. Another with her head bowed took her friend’s hand. One boy pretended to sob, “I-I-I’m so suh-sorry” and then hugged his friend.
“Thank you,” I said. “Sometimes just laughing at your problem can help give you a little perspective, and calm your brain down. All the best now guys.”
So clearly laughing is no fix-all. It won’t suddenly release information from your brain that wasn’t there. But it does help with test anxiety as well as other tense situations and it may help with studying too.
I used to freeze up during tests. I’d get so stressed out that I couldn’t remember anything. Learning how not to freeze up was part of my STUDENT vs. TEST battle. Laughing helped me. I used to come up with acronyms before my exams to make myself smile and help my mind relax.
TEST – Total Execution of Student Time
GCSE – God’s Curse Spread Everywhere
SAT – Saturdays Annihilated Totally
Please have at these smiling prompts and add your own tools/suggestions that help!