We are smack dab in the middle of standardized test season. I get an email every few days encouraging a healthy breakfast, early bedtimes, and practice tests at home. These days usually pass by the Smith household without much fanfare. I don’t make a big deal out of it and my kids treat it like an ordinary day. This year, however, one of my kids developed test anxiety.
The night before her big test, she started making lists of all the things she needed to have a successful test day. She packed and re-packed her backpack. She paced about from room to room checking her outfit, her iPod, her lunch box. She would lie down in bed and pop right back up again, sure there was something she had forgotten. This was unusual behavior from my c’est la vie kid.
I sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her back. I asked the standard parent question: What is wrong with you? She described test anxiety without calling it test anxiety.
“I just want to have a good morning. I am worried I will miss the bus. I want a good lunch after working so hard on these tests. These tests count for something now. If I don’t do well, I can’t take the advanced classes. What if I don’t have time to finish? I don’t think I can answer all the math questions.”
She is a very verbal kid, able and willing to spill her guts at a moment’s notice. She historically scores well on standardized tests. My heart hurt for my bright child. She never hesitates to jump into a challenge. She has no fear of questions she can’t answer. Yet, on the eve of her big test, she was shaken by thoughts of “I can’t.”
My first reaction was frustration with “the system.” The pressure they put on students to do well because school rankings and teacher raises are on the line is unfair. Teaching for the test feels like my kids are getting the educational shaft. The build-up must feel like a doomsday march to them. But I am not one to rail on the school system. My kids go to a great school and I accept the testing day as a part of the other 179 good days they have. Testing is a part of life.
Since testing is a part of life, my daughter’s test anxiety presented an opportunity for character development. What do we do when we face a difficult day, one we aren’t sure we are equipped to handle? The only place I knew to find wisdom for my baby girl was in God’s Word.
I reminded her that God will strengthen her.
“Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” (Is. 41:10, MSG)
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1, ESV)
“God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab. 3:19, ESV)
I let her know that there is nothing she can do on this test that will change the plan God has for her life.
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Prov. 19:21, ESV)
“No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
can avail against the Lord.” (Prov. 21:30, ESV)
“I know you can do all things,
and that no purpose of your can be thwarted.” (Job 42:1, ESV)
I asked her to give her best, and her best includes a good night’s rest.
“Do your best, prepare for the worst—
then trust God to bring victory.” (Prov 21:31, MSG)
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Col. 3:23, NLT)
This isn’t a conversation about what is right and wrong with the education system or the evils of standardized tests. Our kids will face tests—some with a #2 pencil and some without.
Parents, we must capture these teachable moments that are built into the natural stresses of our children’s lives.
We can use these stressful days as an opportunity to give our kids life wisdom, wisdom that will extend past the test day to guide them as they face trials of all shapes and sizes in the future.
My daughter made it through the test. After our little talk and a prayer, her heavy eyelids gave into the call for rest and closed peacefully. The next morning, she stepped on the big yellow school bus with the confidence that no standardized test can define who she is in Christ. She came home that afternoon with a smile on her face. She did her best and that was enough. We headed to Sonic for high-fives and celebration slushies.
No matter the score we get back in the fall, my girl passed this test with flying colors!