Dr. Mary Ann Smialek
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Test Taking Techniques

Tests are a part of school life much too the dismay of most students. Many of these children can handle the time management needed and the overall pressure of taking tests. Some students are mentally and sometimes physically "overloaded" at just the thought of a test-taking situation. In many cases, like this, tests do not accurately measure your child’s true knowledge of the subject and his ability to learn, process and remember information. There are many ways to help your young ones work smarter and not harder and to "ace" any test taking situation. Reduce the worry about tests and improve test performance and outcomes. Here are some practical ways that you can take the fear and anxiety out of test taking situations:

Before the Test

  • Use a Study Guide.
    If your child’s teacher does not usually provide a study guide, ask her if she would consider doing so. If the response is not positive, you can design your own for your child by following these various tips.
    1. Write down main ideas of a science or social studies chapter on a 3 x 5 index card. Memorize them!
    2. Jot down incomplete sentences. Instruct your child to fill in the blanks. Write in the answers. Memorize main ideas!
    3. Define key vocabulary words from the lesson or story. Write down, short, concise word meanings. Memorize each one!

It is more important that your young one concentrate on major, focal ideas than spending time on details that may be irrelevant. Reading, studying and memorizing the major items of a selected lesson will always produce a better grade when taking a test. Don’t cram. In the week before the test, schedule shorter study sessions. Your child will feel less pressure and he’ll remember more.

  • Be A Good Listener.
    Remind your child to be a good listener and follow test directions. In the primary grades test directions are both, given orally and in writing. Stress to your child that if he doesn’t understand the directions the first time, ask the teacher for clearer directions. It’s better to be safe than sorry later. Tests in elementary school are usually not timed and even if they do have a time limit it is advisable for your child to take the extra minutes needed to be sure that he is on the right track for a successful test taking situation by understanding the directions.

  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
    Your child should get plenty of sleep the night before a test is the second best preparation for test taking other than lots of study, study and more study!

  • Eat a Good Breakfast.
    Don’t underestimate the power of a good breakfast. Some children don’t want to eat so early in the morning and that’s o.k. In that case, send a snack with him to be eaten on the bus or in the homeroom before the test or at recess. If he really doesn’t want the snack before the test, surely he’ll enjoy it after the fact – when most of the test anxiety is over.

  • "Always Do Your Best".
    Emphasize to your young one to do his best on the test. It is a mistake to put qualifiers on your expectations. Say: "Always do your best." instead of "Bring me an A+ or "I know you’ll get a 100%." You lessen the pressure for your children if you follow this simple rule.

During the Test

  • Read the directions.
    Usually the teacher will read and explain the test directions with the class. If she doesn’t, remind your child to read the directions and remember to ask for clarification if he doesn’t understand them.

  • Skim the test quickly.
    This test taking strategy is much overlooked by students. Many times when the student completes the short, easier sections of the test he gains more confidence. He then can continue the test with less pressure. By skimming over the test your child will know what to expect and can pace himself a little better for a longer or written essay section of the test.

  • Skip Hard Questions.
    Tell you youngster not to be afraid to skip a question on the test. It is better for your young one to skip a question that he’s unfamiliar with or one that is too hard than wasting time on it. His score will be better if he completes accurately the items that he’s most familiar within the time limit of the test. If there’s time the student can always come back to try the harder questions towards the end of the test.

  • Check over work.
    Remind your child to make sure that he didn’t skip any part of the test. This happens often. When the test is turned in to the teacher it’s a little too late to make corrections or complete missed sections. If there’s time, check over for correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar. In a math test, always check the signs (operation of the problem) and note careless mistakes such as adding instead of subtracting can lower the test grade substantially.

After the Test

No test can measure a child’s worth! Here are some things to tell your child to put taking tests into perspective:

"One test is only part of your grade. What is most important is that you have an understanding of the subject. One poor test score will not equal to a failure grade of your report card. Your attendance, attitude daily work and of course homework make up your final or report card grade."

"You’ll do better next time. The subject and interest level will be different."

"Tests are stressful situations. Let’s talk about how you can better control the circumstances and your feelings. Above all, inject humor into your conversation with your child. Increase family laughter. Show that life can be joyful and fun – even, after a test that didn’t go so well!

A Note About Standardized Tests

Standardized tests help measure your children’s progress. Their results are compared with those kids at the same grade level nationwide. Schools also use the scores to see what areas of the curriculum may need to be strengthened. These tests usually cover many different subject areas and are often impossible to study for. Doing homework regularly is one of the best ways your children can prepare. Also, you can share these test-taking tips:

  • Pay careful attention to the directions.
  • Spend about the same amount of time on each question.
  • Check your answer and make sure the answers match the right question.

A good night’s sleep the night before and a healthy breakfast on test day can help too! Don’t Miss the Bus in recognizing and practicing Strategies for Motivation.

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