No one ever said tests were fun, but...
May 15, 2012 3:26 PM   Subscribe

How can I make an exam setting as stress-free as possible?

My job involves planning and overseeing the delivery of several different professional certification exams. Typically the exams are given in large, bland settings (hotel conference rooms, corporate learning spaces, etc.) and the examinees are generally tired at best and incredibly stressed and on edge at worst.

I'd like to come up with ways to make the atmosphere as pleasant as possible, and am looking for suggestions - it could be ways to make the room more comfortable, or things my company could provide (other than beverages/food) to help put the candidates at ease. We typically have water/coffee/tea provided, and we also have pencils/erasers available for those in need. Beyond that, however, it's pretty no frills and I'd like to hear ideas about what others think would make the experience easier/happier in any way.

Thanks in advance!
posted by DuckGirl to Education (12 answers total)
In this type of setting, I would appreciate a large, visible clock (or an update on time on a board at the front of the room), so that I don't have to keep peering around to find a clock. I feel like many people don't wear watches anymore and I assume you don't want people checking their phones during an exam, so this lets folks not stress about how much time is remaining.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:42 PM on May 15, 2012

  • Make sure the room is between 68 and 72 degrees.
  • Try and provide natural lighting, or task-level non-fluorescent lighting if that's not possible.
  • Allow people substantial amounts of elbow room - a standard two-person table per individual, for instance.
  • If you're allowed to use pens on these tests, my gosh, provide some.
  • Write down the times (beginning, ending, etc.) on a whiteboard or large display tablet, and make sure there's a visible clock. Use Command Strips and a clock you've brought on your own, if you have to.
  • If it's allowed, provide scratch paper.
  • Always give people very precise instructions as to the location of the nearest restroom.
  • Offer juice or lemonade or something other than tea/coffee. Some of us can't have caffeinated beverages, and/or have specific religious proscriptions about tea and coffee specifically.
  • Have disposable earplugs for people who are having trouble concentrating.
  • Be aware of common test-taking accommodation requests, and figure out which ones you can and can't handle (within the limits of the testing rules, not necessarily within the limits of what you're interested in doing.)

posted by SMPA at 3:44 PM on May 15, 2012

Climate control. Make the room properly air conditioned or heated, as the weather warrants.

(I gave two final exams in overly warm rooms last week. It didn't help.)

Also, it you allow exam-takers to use the bathroom during the exam, it really helps if the proctor knows where the bathroom is.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:45 PM on May 15, 2012

Comfy chairs! If computers are used then decent monitors and non-sticky keyboards and mouses. Stressed people sweat so they will need to be wiped down often. Obvious and attentive examiners that will spot you if you need help and put your hand up.
posted by meepmeow at 3:45 PM on May 15, 2012

Agree with lots of the above, and would add: have a box of tissues in the room. It's horrible to be a sniffler or listen to one during an exam.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:53 PM on May 15, 2012

I suspect that minimalism is the thing that fewest people will object to. If I was doing an exam by myself, I'd love to have some quiet music playing, for instance, but that would throw some people entirely off their game, making the thing far more stressful for them. One thing that I think would make a difference would be to encourage the invigilators (or is that you?) to convey friendliness and approachability when giving instructions - eg. by smiling warmly, inviting people to raise their hand if they need anything during the exam (a pencil? a bathroom break?), wishing them well as they're about to begin - I think that reducing any social unease and making expectations clear would be the best thing you could do to help me relax in that situation. Also making sure that the temperature is comfortable in the exam space makes a huge difference (though smart exam takers dress in layers because it's so often not the case).

(On preview, what everyone else has said.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:57 PM on May 15, 2012

Thanks for the suggestions so far! We do project a clock whenever possible (I'd say 90% of the time I have a projector), and I always include in my pre-exam announcements the location of the nearest bathroom. Good point about juice vs. tea or coffee.

Any suggestions other than ear plugs (which I think are great and definitely useful) for takeaway items? Would squeezy stress balls make sense, for instance?
posted by DuckGirl at 3:59 PM on May 15, 2012

Wiping down the keyboards is a great suggestion!
posted by kettleoffish at 4:11 PM on May 15, 2012

Stress balls are rather expensive - I mean, if it's in your budget, great, but I've never had a test in an environment where they were present (I literally don't know if they'd be helpful.) If you get them, I recommend sticking with a ball shape, rather than getting a novelty shape (stars, footballs, etc.)

In my ideal testing environment, there would be free personal wipes of some sort. I hate having sticky hands. Note how these ones are individually wrapped? That's a must if you do this.
posted by SMPA at 4:24 PM on May 15, 2012

A white noise machine. When I took my veterinary boards, we had one in the room and it made such a huge difference. There is nothing worse than sitting next to the person who sniffles, and the white noise takes some of that edge off.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:17 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can swing it, bring in some (hypoallergenic) plants. Having some nature scattered around in a test setting really soothes me.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 8:00 PM on May 15, 2012

I spoke to a woman this week who wears bifocals, and said that she was recently taking a test on a computer, and the monitor was set so high that it was very hard for her to read - the "reading" part of her bifocals is on the bottom, so she had to tilt her head way back or move her glasses. She tried to move the monitor but it caused some technical problem. It made me think of your question.

At any rate, you might think about whether there's a way to make clear that you can move monitors etc to accommodate people with vision issues if they need it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:53 AM on June 8, 2012

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