Unorthodox Test Strategies

       Me on test day: Please sit down, take out your pencils, smack yourself in the head, and begin the test. 

Blogpost about awesome ideas for stress reduction, enhancing memory, and improving test performance here. They may sound odd but they work!

       No. I don't enjoy inflicting pain. And although I am crazy about my students, I'm not crazy. Nor am I a huge fan of Homer Simpson's, "Doh!"

       I tell my students to smack their heads, because a neurosurgeon told me it would be a good idea. 

       Several years ago, a colleague and I went to a teaching conference about enhancing students' brain function. It was called... Enhancing Your Students' Brain Function, or something like that. Okay, I forget what it was called. It was about what I could do for my students, not me. 

      The conference was run by the neuroscience department of a major hospital, and the neurosurgeon who told us about the head smacking said that she does it before performing brain surgery. It stimulates the frontal lobe of the brain. The fact that she does this herself was enough to sell us on the idea. 

 Optimal Performance of a Mental Task
      Here's the technique: Flatten your hand, and firmly tap your forehead right at your hairline about ten times. I always have to tell the kids not to do it if they have recently come off a concussion, and not to do it so harshly that they give themselves a concussion. Be prepared; that warning often prompts one clown per class to hit himself and "fall" out of his chair. 

     When I tell the kids to try this, they usually chuckle a little, and then no matter how foolish they feel, they try it. 

     I have a confession. I'm sure the neurosurgeon was right about activating the frontal lobe. But I am just as interested in the chuckles elicited by the head tapping. Because that chuckle is an outlet for all of the anxiety involved in  high-stakes testing. 

      We find that our students are more anxious than ever this year. In my school, we have an amazing guidance department, and these wonderful counselors have their hands full trying to get the kids to relax. So I feel like anything I can do to help the cause is time well spent.

Cognitive Benefits and Anxiety Reduction
     There are other catalysts that produce both cognitive benefits and anxiety reduction. Here are a few more:
  • Gum chewing: Gum is never contraband in my class as long as I don't see it, hear it, or smell it. Which transitions nicely to...
  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy works by encouraging deep breathing, which increases the flow of oxygen. Mint and pine both enhance memory, as well as aid relaxation.
  • Protein: My grandmother used to say that fish is brain food. Studies now prove that this is not just an old wives' tale. I would love to hand out anchovies before a test, but I don't think that would go over too well. So I encourage kids to eat protein foods for breakfast on a test day.
     I am now going to smack myself in the head so that I can go write some curriculum units. Please share any, and I mean any (obviously I am not choosy) outside-of -the-box test strategies you use! You can share here or on my Facebook page, which is

You can find more awesome test strategies here:
Make test prep fun and easy with this engaging test tip flip book.  Your students will enjoy creating the interactive book and reading and responding to tips; I know mine do! The best part is that they are having fun, while gaining lifelong skills necessary for success!


  1. I've done a visualization exercise before beginning tests. We close our eyes and visualize our neurons firing (the kids have always seen photos of brains lit up before we do this) then we do a few stretches and wiggles before beginning.
    It seems to help the anxious ones :)


    1. Firing neurons! I love it! I'll have to try that visualization trick myself; maybe before I write my next blog post! :)
      Thank you!

  2. Love your ideas! With my gifted class, I am sure I would have more than one who smacks themselves and then falls out of their chairs! I would have to phrase it very carefully! I too allow gum chewing, in fact I have gum on my desk in a candy jar. I had read that it really helps to activate the brain and reduce stress. The one tip I try to stress with my kids at test time (and all year round actually) is to remain hydrated. I encourage them to bring a reusable water bottle to school and keep it on their desks. I also have a fridge filled with water in the classroom. Hydration is essential to good body and therefore brain function. Like you, I also stress the importance of good nutrition with a focus on protein for long term energy. Thanks for sharing:)

    1. Sidney, I never stressed the importance of hydration! That's a great point! I know I don't drink enough myself. Come to think of it, that might explain a lot!
      Take care!

  3. I took a brain gym class and taught the kids some brain relaxation techniques. The one the can do during a test is to cross extended arms right over left, and clasp your hands, palms facing. Pull your hands toward you and let them naturally flip- still clasped and held to your chest. If arms were right over left, then cross ankles left over right or visa versa. Then, eyes closed, they take 3-5 deep breaths, hold and slowly release.

    I would *LOVE* to see you trying to do this right now, because I'm guessing you're all tangled up-I know my kids were the first couple times until they got it. It's supposed to cross the midline in their brains. Kids said they found it relaxing.

    I agree with Sidney- lots of water. If that doesn't work, bring bananas- not as stinky as sardines! :)
    (guess what I learned to do... :)
    Desktop Learning Adventures

  4. Pam, your instructions are so spot on that I didn't get tangled! I looked like a weirdo though. But I am definitely going to try it with the kids; they will love it!
    Thank you!

  5. Excellent post and ideas offered! I agree, anything (within reason) to get kids to laugh and relax before testing is a good strategy. It is stressful for me just watching them take the test!Forever A Teacher, Forever A Learner

  6. You're right! It's painful to watch!

  7. Oh my gosh all these ideas are brilliant! And yes I've smacked myself in the head AND got myself tangled over the last few minutes! I saw your blog on TpT and popped over because I teach year six in New Zealand which is equivalent to fifth grade over there and I've been bouncing all over the place on your blog reading all of your posts! I'm definitely going to become your latest follower. I'm also going to add you to the friends page on my blog if you don't mind so I can find you again easily!

    x Serena x
    Magic Mistakes & Mayhem

  8. Feel free! I'm glad you've enjoyed it; I just popped over to your blog and it is terrific! Thank you!