Preparing for NAPLAN
by Andrew Fuller
Let’s start by letting you know what NAPLAN is not. It is not a measure of how intelligent you are. It is not a measure of what you are capable of. Your results on NAPLAN don't effect if you pass the year or not.
I could tell you as a psychologist that your results on NAPLAN aren't worth worrying about, but I’m not sure you are going to believe me. So if you have ever felt butterflies in your stomach or a headache whenever you think of a coming test or NAPLAN, the ideas in this paper are for you.
Everybody gets stressed.
Everyone gets stressed during tests and exams, even the people who say that they don't. Look around in a room where people are doing a test or exam. Even those people who are yawning, looking bored or stretching and looking as cool as cucumbers, are stressed.
That means everyone has to learn how to cope with these feelings. It is not just you!
Stress can block your memory, give you a queasy tummy, make you lie awake at night, give you a dry throat or a headache- these aren’t nice feelings to have.
The first strategy to dealing with stress is to get stressed. Huh? Makes no sense? Let me explain.
Stress feels yucky but it is actually your body’s way of preparing you to perform at your best. Blood gets pumped to your arms and legs, your heart speeds up, and non- essential services like your digestion slow down - you are ready to take on the world. So stress might feel unpleasant but realising that it is your body’s way of revving you up and helping you to perform at your best, will help you to keep these feelings in perspective.
Write Out Your Worries
The second strategy to deal with the stress of an upcoming test or exam is to grab a piece of paper one or two days before the test and write down all your concerns about it. Write out an answer to the question, “What would happen if I fail this test?” (Even though you can’t fail NAPLAN). Then write out an answer to the next question, “If I did fail what would happen then?” Read your written answers aloud to yourself.
Even if doing well is really, really important to you, knowing your fears will calm you. Answering the question, “If I did fail, what would happen then?” helps you to make a back up plan.
Ok you’ve done all of that and you still feel nervy. The third strategy is to eat or chew on something either before or during the test or exam. Check with your teacher that chewing something is allowed in test and exam rooms. If chewing is not allowed, at least chew something just before entering the test. Some jellybeans or fruit would be ideal.
Stress happens when we feel we are in a dangerous situation. It is an automatic process that we can’t completely control. Eating or chewing on something sends a signal to your body that says, “Well, if I’m chewing something I can't be in total danger, so relax a bit.”
Focus on now.
Stress can spin your head. It can have you thinking all sorts of weird ideas. Stress can have you remembering that time you failed all those years ago or that time you were so embarrassed by something. Stress can also blow things out of all proportion and have you predicting bad things in your future.
The past is no longer with you and the future hasn’t happened yet. Worrying has never changed anything in the past and predictions about the future are usually wrong.
Doing well on a test or exam means you need to focus on the question in front of you now. Keep reminding yourself, “What do I need to do right now?”
Answer a question that feels easy first off in a test or exam to build up your confidence.
Breathe Out - S L O W L Y
When you feel stressed one of the fastest ways to calm down is to breathe out slowly. We all have a calm down system that is controlled by our breathing. If you breathe out and count silently to yourself, “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand”, you will start to feel calmer.
Stand tall walk proud
Your brain is incredibly intelligent. In fact, you possess at the top your neck, humanity’s latest upgrade- the most intelligent brain in all of history.
But! Your brain is also incredibly stupid. It believes what you tell it. This means if you stand-up and maintain a powerful posture your body sends a signal to your brain that tells it you are feeling in charge of things and it can reduce your stress hormones.
Look after yourself
Breakfast- eat “brain food” the morning before. Have a higher protein, lower carbohydrate mix at breakfast. That means less toast and more eggs.
Drink water- water lowers your levels of cortisol that causes stressful feelings. Avoid energy drinks as they rev you up and may interfere with your levels of concentration.
Sleep well- try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. If you are feeling really worried, set an alarm so you can wake up early and feel awake and eady .
Make yourself smarter
The biggest obstacle you face in doing well at a test or exam is not your brain. You have plenty of intelligence. The big issue is your level of anxiety.
If you take the time to prepare for the test or exam and use the strategies suggested in this sheet, you will perform at your best.
Keep Calm and Carry On
You have many, many skills that will NOT be assessed by NAPLAN. Tests and exams are important, but they are not the big predictors of life success.
Do your best and prepare as well as you can but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your score on NAPLAN is a measure of your intelligence or predicts your future.
Andrew’s most recent book is “ Unlocking Your Child’s Genius” (Finch Publishing, 2015).