teenager reading on a laptop, focusing

I get so excited watching my students focusing so hard as they take the AAPPL. However, immediately after the test, the students seemed stunned, mentally spent, and slightly overwhelmed. I worried at first that this was caused by the test being too difficult for them, but then realized that it’s the result of the stamina required in completing any rigorous test. Here are some things I learned that can help students effectively tackle the AAPPL without test fatigue impacting their performance.

Scheduling

I decided to administer the AAPPL during regular scheduled Spanish 4 class periods with the modes divided over separate days: one day for reading, one day for listening, etc. This type of spread out testing schedule is possible because, although the AAPPL is one complete test of all four skills and the three communicative modes, it consists of four separate test components that are easy to administer one at a time over the course of a week of class periods. This is helpful so that a student’s confidence and focus on one mode doesn’t affect the others.

Originally, I allotted one week of class time to AAPPL testing. We went through all four modes in one week. I found this to be a little bit exhausting for the students. By the end of the week, several students admitted to just giving up or not really doing their best because they were mentally tired. Last year I spread out the testing schedule a little bit more to alleviate that. Rather than focus on doing all four modes in one week, students took one mode per week. We began with the Presentational Writing mode, and students had two days (or two class periods) to complete that. Then, for the rest of the week we did fun review games or lighter activities to try and lower the intensity. The following week we did the Interpersonal Listening and Speaking mode and again allotted two class periods for that. The following week we did the Interpretive Reading mode one day and the Interpretive Listening mode a few days later, with fun review activities in between. The upsides of this were that the students felt more comfortable and capable of approaching each mode to the best of their ability. The downside, for an instructor, is that the testing occupied some of our class time for almost a month. If the focus is to address student anxiety and eliminate test fatigue, this schedule is very beneficial and worth the tradeoff.

This year, I was considering spreading it out even more and testing different modes at different times of the year. My Spanish 4 classes are always comfortable with the interpretive tests of listening and reading. Last year, the students remarked that they would be able to confidently take those tests during September and October instead of March and April when we usually did the testing. I believe it’s worth investigating the benefits of testing individual modes throughout the year versus testing all modes in one period of time.

Take a Break

It’s worth highlighting again that the AAPPL contains four separate test modes that are independent of each other and can be taken separately. If you must administer the test in one day, encourage students to take a break in between the different sections to walk around, breathe, play a game, etc. This is a healthy way to fight fatigue. During the quarantine shutdown of 2020, my students took the AAPPL with Parent/Guardian Proctoring. I advised parents to make sure that the students took breaks and at least walked around in between tests so they didn’t plow through all of them at once. I had one student that semester who did attempt to do all four tests at one time and the results were influenced by how exhausted he was with the testing process in general.

Teach Self-Awareness

When I first began to understand how mentally consuming testing could be, I began to educate my students about feeling overwhelmed. Throughout the year, I had them practice self-awareness strategies that helped them recognize when they were getting to a moment of mental fatigue. And then we practiced strategies to refocus. During testing, students relied on these strategies and thus became more aware of when their focus was being affected. This past semester while testing, I frequently saw students push their chairs back, close their eyes for a few seconds and just detach from the test. They gave themselves a thirty second break when they felt the intensity get too high and returned to the test ready to proceed.

We spend a lot of time as language educators preparing our students to demonstrate their language skills, but it’s also important to set aside a little bit of time to address these other socio-emotional factors that contribute to test performance. Helping your students address mental fatigue gives them the best opportunity for success.

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