Life is like a Box of…



Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add undergrad, grad school, and professional development to that number and I can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we make a contingency plan: If I fail this test, I will have ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to take a course in the summer.  Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay our timeline, it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to each fear and a realistic contingency plan in place, I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset: This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it! I try to help my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Study Like D.J. Tanner

Full HouseOh, Full House. You have given us so very many important life lessons.

As a child of the 80’s and one of three sisters myself, I especially related to this show. See Donna Jo Tanner, D.J. as we all grew to know and love her, was the eldest just like me, and a bossy but loving older sister, just like me. She was also studious and mindful and always the diligent helper, just like me.

How You Study is Just as Important as What You Study

In the episode where Uncle Jesse is studying for his Driver’s Test, which he has previously failed a few times due to poor study habits, DJ teaches him that how you study is just as important as what you study.

Taking a lesson from my sitcom friend, here are three applicable ways to study smarter:

1. DJ Says Find a Quiet Place with Limited Distractions

In everyday life, we are constantly distracted from the task at hand. Finding a quiet place without the beep of a text message or the ring of someone’s phone is nearly impossible. Even in our homes the TV is on, someone is talking on the phone, someone is listening to music, someone is playing a video game — it’s constant noise! For a child that exhibits any tendency towards distractablity, impulsvity, has ADHD or is just hyper-sensitive to the lack of calm, drowning out the noise can prove to be extremely difficult. And less focus means less long-term memory.

DJ says sit at the table or study in a quiet place with limited distractions. This means setting up a Technology-Free Zone in your home or going to the library after school and reserving a study room. Making the extra effort as to where your child studies is key to making sure he remembers the material.

2. DJ says No Eating While Studying

DJ  makes it clear that eating while studying is a no-no. Eating before studying, however, is actually food for your stomach and your brain.

I recently took on a new student who exhibits tendencies of ADHD. He’s super smart but has the “wiggles” and finds it difficult to stay in one place for longer than 10 minutes. For example, during our one hour session, he needed to leave the room 3 times and leave his seat 4 times. Now, I’m not religious when it comes to studying at the table or sitting in a chair. Most of my students can’t tolerate sitting for a great deal of time– they need to be on the move. So we do our best to mix it up, especially when his energy engine is running low.

This kid amazes me though. He knows he has the wiggles and so instead of making a big deal about it, he is learning to use tools and strategies, like the use of a fidget, standing up when needed, sitting on a wiggle seat or a Bosu ball, and taking small, unassuming breaks, to help ease those difficult, unfocused moments.

Together, we set Academic Goals and Behavior Expectations. He thought of the expectation “To Eat Before Tutoring”.  When I prompted him as to why he replied, “Because it helps me focus.” Even at the tender age of 10, my student knows that his mind and body are connected.

DJ would be proud.

3. DJ Says No Music Too?

Here’s where DJ and I disagree a bit. (Sorry, Deege).

I think music can help a student focus better, as long as it provides a sense of calm and is set at a low decibel level where it becomes background noise instead of a dance party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Homework Dance Party breaks (I’m a pretty cool Tutor, after all) but when it’s time to get down to the business of studying, we gotta turn down the volume too–just a bit.

Great advice, Teacher D.J.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to