Strategies for Successful Test-Taking

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Does your child need to improve his skills? Put these tips to the test!


Full337.jpgEven as adults, most of us feel some anxiety when we take tests. These negative feelings usually begin in childhood, starting with one bad test and compounding until we approach each exam with increasing tension.

Christie Andrews, associate director at Bowie Reading and Learning Center, says there are several factors affecting test performance. “It really varies,” she says. “Some kids have a real deficit in their skills; others might just be disorganized and need help with study skills and organization. And some might have test-taking anxiety.”

Identify the Problem

Andrews says that the first step is to “determine where the breakdown is.” If your child’s grades don’t seem to accurately reflect his knowledge, or if he knows the material the night before but freezes on the day of the test, he’s probably experiencing test anxiety.

Look through your child’s tests. Is there any particular type he seems to have difficulty with? Does he have problems with quizzes, essay tests, multiple answer tests or standardized tests? It may be that your child knows the subject, but has trouble handling the testing techniques.

If you discover that your child has problems with a specific type of test, work on developing the skills he needs, including quick thinking, fast reading, study skills and the ability to bubble in answers quickly (dull pencils fill in bubbles more quickly than sharp-pointed pencils). Talk with your child’s teacher to get some specific ideas, and practice taking tests at home so that you child can try out these new skills before a test in school.

Director Judy Hennessy of Sylvan Learning Center in Murfreesboro says, “Many times, when a student doesn’t do well on a test, it really has to to with preparation. If they don’t know how to study, they take shortcuts – and when it comes time to take the test, they’re not prepared.” Getting ready for a test, she says, “begins on the first day of class.”

Even when anxiety is the issue, developing study and organizational skills can help.

Test-Taking Strategies

You can help your child overcome anxiety by using a variety of test-taking strategies and relaxation techniques. Here are some methods that work for many students:

  • Prepare for tests in advance. Studies show that the best results come from shorter, more frequent study sessions, distributed over a long period of time. Doing daily homework spreads the work over many days.
  • Review past tests and quizzes to identify weaknesses or areas requiring extra concentration.
  • Avoid cramming. Spend time each day reading materials and reviewing the day’s lesson.
  • If you don’t understand a concept, ask the teacher about it the next day.
  • Utilize textbook review questions and take practice tests. Use flash cards to practice.
  • Study with a partner. Students can quiz one another, explain items that are unclear and help each other study.
  • Ask the teacher for past tests in order to see what her testing style is. Being prepared in this way helps students feel less nervous and perform better.
  • Eat a good breakfast, have a good night’s sleep before a big test, dress comfortably and have all the necessary supplies (pen, pencil, calculator, book, etc.). Be on time!
  • Parents shouldn’t apply pressure to children. They should say, “Do your best” instead of “You’ve got to get a ‘B’ to pass this class.”
  • Relax before a test. Parents can teach children to practice breathing deeply and tightening/relaxing arms, legs and face muscles. Avoid stressful situations prior to testing.
  • Think about a positive outcome for the test – not a negative one.
  • Carefully listen to the teacher’s instruction before a test and read all written instructions. If you have a question, ask it.
  • At the beginning of the test, quickly scan to see which questions may be worth more than others.
  • On a multiple choice test, if you don’t know the answer, narrow the choices by eliminating the wrong answers first.
  • Focus on one question at a time, but keep in mind the total time allotted for the test.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, skip it and come back.
  • Use all of the test time. If you finish beforehand, use the extra time to check answers. Check for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Check math for careless mistakes. Don’t change an answer unless you’re sure – studies show that a student’s first answer is usually right.
  • Don’t let other students distract you – it doesn’t matter who finishes first or last.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Correct answers on your returned tests.
  • Parents should help their children put test results in perspective – although this one test may be important, it is just one measurement of capability.

If you have tried all of these methods and your student is still having problems taking tests, a tutoring service might be the answer. Professionals are able to work one-on-one with your child to help improve test-taking skills.

Peggy Middendorf is a freelance writer.

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