Why kids are scared of NAPLAN and how to help them


Mirella and Charlene are teachers and education consultants who met in 2012, growing close over a shared love of Ellen Degeneres and The West Wing. Their professional concern for wanting to “do more” for mathematics education led them to create Education Equals – a pioneering educational space. 


The other day I asked the students in one of my Year 7 classes “who’s a bit worried about NAPLAN this year?”


About 70% of the students’ hands went up and a few students had genuinely worried faces.


I then asked them to explain to me and the class what they were worried about. Their responses provide insight into student perceptions of NAPLAN and what we can do to help them feel more confident and self-assured this time around.

Here are some of the common responses and ways in which we can help our children overcome their fears.


“I’m scared I won’t know how to do any of the questions.”


The fear of the unknown is very real and although students who have sat NAPLAN tests before know what the tests look like, there’s still the fear of being unprepared. Students worry that they might not understand what they’re being asked or that they’ll forget what they know and have a “brain freeze” on the day. We’ve all had these fears ourselves, and usually they manifest in our dreams the night before an exam.


Luckily this is probably the easiest worry to address. To eliminate some of the fear of the unknown it is only necessary to expose kids to NAPLAN papers at their current year level. Your child’s school will no doubt have resources that you can access and more likely still, they’ve already given your child at least one paper to look over.


In my class, I asked my students to work on some of the questions from a previous NAPLAN and we then went through the solutions together and discussed how we felt. The common response from the class was “I knew how to do a lot more of those questions than I thought I would.”


“I’m worried that my mark will let the school down.”


Kids get all sorts of ideas in their minds about what NAPLAN is for and how it will be used. As they get older they know something about the My School website and the publishing of NAPLAN results and they worry that they’re “letting the team down.”


A discussion about what NAPLAN is for, and how it fits into their personal education journey, is important. Here is a link to last week’s article that discusses the ways and means to discuss NAPLAN with your child.


“I’m worried about having to concentrate for so long.”


For students in primary school in particular, NAPLAN is often the longest period of time that they have had to sit at one desk, concentrating on one task without input or assistance from their teachers or peers. Students in secondary school are far more used to the rigour and regularity of timed assessments.


For younger students it is no wonder that they report feeling very anxious and concerned about NAPLAN. Imagine how different and bewildering it feels to be told to sit and work without any help from the teacher and to work in complete silence. All we need to do is take the opportunity to model to children a test-taking environment. You can do this at home, even if you’ve never done it before. Set up a work area with a clock and a selection of NAPLAN questions and act as the examiner for your child. If they are familiar with how NAPLAN will feel, it won’t seem as alien or fill them with as much anxiety on the day.


“I’m scared about what my parents will say when they see my dot on the graph at the end of the year.”


When parents receive school reports for their children, there is a lot of information, most of which is provided in writing. When parents receive NAPLAN results, the impact of a diagram and a dot on a graph indicating their child’s achievement can pose more questions than it answers and kids are scared of these questions coming their way.


It has been shown that high parental expectations are important to improved educational outcomes for kids. Of course there is a balance between having positive, helpful expectations and being overbearing and accusatory. Letting your child know that you expect them to do their best at all times is an important first step. How to discuss their results with them is a topic we will discuss in detail very soon, so stay tuned!


Mirella is a Mathematics Teacher and Education Consultant and her mission is to help parents raise mathematically confident and competent children through her site www.educationequals.com