Every morning this week has been devoted to administering our standardized tests. Proctoring them has given me another moment to watch students work. The interesting part about testing is that it takes most students out of their comfort zone. There is no preparation that will support them. They simply have to come in and face the test. For some of them, it is like one long puzzle that they want to put together, and for others, it is one ongoing experience of confusion and failure.
Watching them respond, over the course of two hours, shows a lot about them. There are the Diligent ones, whose focus never leaves the desk. Their eyes shift back and forth between the reading, the questions, the answer sheet, and back again. The test is their next challenge, and they are going to master it. It doesn’t concern them that they don’t know the topic of the passage or that the wording of the math problem is awkward. It is their job to get the answer, and they set about it with determination. They exude a confidence in themselves and their ability to master this challenge. It carries them past the moments when they are unsure of an answer and allows them to make best guesses, rather than panicked choices. They are able to sit through the days with total calm.
Then there are the Yawners. They read; they yawn; they jot a note on their scratch paper; they stretch; they read; they yawn. Whether they forgot to eat their breakfast or stayed up watching TV long into the night, they are clearly still finding their mental way to school. Often though, the yawns and stretches are less connected to a lack of sleep and are an effective coping mechanism, one that allows them to cover their lack of control over the test. They observe the students around them with their pencils moving, and they have no idea what is their next answer. What better tool to hold off the need to write something than a physical need to yawn? No one will fault you for having to pause in your testing to yawn and to perhaps follow that yawn with a stretch. A good 30 seconds of rest from the concentration and confusion of the test could be gained.
Next are the Hair Testers. They are the ones for whom every movement of the eye or the hand on the test must be accompanied by the twist or twirl of their hair. Some wrap a strand around a finger, over and over. Some are creating tiny braids as they read. Some are flippers, tossing their head from side to side before filling in any box. And some simply need to redo their ponytail again and again, while others create a wall of hair around their face, hiding their expressions and their work behind it.
Then there is the body language that accompanies the stress of testing. Some slouch; some sit upright. There are sleepers, with their heads resting on one arm while they write with the other. There are the head proppers, whose elbow rests on the desk for the entire test. There are the ones who need to rest a foot on the desk crossbar, and those who need to endlessly bounce their leg. And then there is the need to get up to get a tissue to blow one’s nose. Another great method to give oneself a break in the midst of the test.
It is a stressful experience, whether they feel comfortable or not, and their coping mechanisms are fascinating to watch!