Strong Learning often Gets Questions about Taking Tests
Question: “My daughter does well on her homework, studies for hours, and then does poorly on her tests. She’d be an ‘A’ student if not for the tests. She’s just not a good test taker. Is there anything we can do to help her?
My child is a poor test taker.
What can we do to help her?
Answer: There are many strategies children can learn to help them do well on tests. You have to find which strategies are most likely to help your child. A good place to begin is by going over the tests so that you and your child can find out what is causing her to do poorly. Here are the ten most common causes
- Vocabulary: You may find that she didn’t understand the questions because she didn’t know the meaning of some of the key words. It is surprising how often kids get confused because they do not know commonly used words. For example, one of our ninth graders brought a failing test paper to us to show him what he did wrong. One question was about a hermit who lived on a secluded island. Because he didn’t know the meaning of two key words, hermit and secluded, he answered as if it were about a hermit crab! So in the future, while your daughter is learning a subject, it is a good idea to check that she is familiar with the necessary vocabulary.
- Concepts: She may not have understood the concepts even though she memorized lists of facts. One way to reinforce the concepts children learn in school is to discuss them as a family during casual conversation, perhaps during dinner or while driving.
- Language Processing: She may not get the intended meaning of the question. If this happens once in awhile, have her ask her teacher for help. If it happens often, she may have a language processing problem that needs to be dealt with. You may need to seek the advise of school personnel or a private learning specialist.
- Learning Style: Your child may be studying in ways that are not compatible with her learning style. For example, her most efficient learning style may require visual techniques, but she may often study using verbal techniques. So although she is putting in ample time studying, she may be learning little. You need to identify your child’s learning style and help her learn how to study accordingly. You may need to seek the advise of school personnel or a private learning specialist.
- Memory: Your child’s short-term memory may be far better than her long-term memory. If your child has an excellent short-term memory and an average or poor long-term memory, she may finish studying before the material gets into her long-term memory. She thinks she knows the material, and she does at the time (using short-term memory), but by the time she takes the test (requiring long-term memory) she has forgotten a good portion of the material. Your child may need to practice, practice, and practice some more. Also, consider purchasing a book on memory skills. (See our Improve Your Memory workbook).
- Slow Worker: Your child may be a slow worker, or a slow processor so she doesn’t complete her exams, rushes through them without reading or processing the questions, or panics and shuts down. She may simply need more time. Talk to her teachers. Perhaps being permitted to continue for a few minutes after the bell rings, or being allowed to come back for a few minutes during lunch or study hall, will solve the problem. Sometimes, just knowing that she won’t run out of time, eliminates the problem.
- Study Skills: Your child may have poor study skills and work habits. There are many ways to learn effective study skills from: reading study skills books, taking a study skills course, or by taking a few sessions on study skills with a learning specialist. (See our Study Skills Workbooks). However, once children learn how to study, they need to use the strategies. If they don’t, it’s the same as going to a weight-loss center and then going home and having a piece of chocolate cake.
- Writing: Your child may have trouble with essay tests because she has difficulty writing clearly. If given the opportunity, she would be able to choose correct answers from a multiple choice list or be able to accurately answer the test questions verbally; but she cannot clearly articulate her thoughts in writing. If that is the case, the problem is not that your child is a “bad test taker,” but simply that she needs to work on her writing skills and/or be given the opportunity to take the test orally or using another assessment technique. (See our Improve Your Writing workbooks).
- Learning Disability: Your child may have a mild learning disability. Sometimes these disabilities are not identified, and thus are not addressed. If you suspect such disabilities, seek the advise of school personnel or a private learning specialist.
- Anxiety: Your child may be overly anxious. This may result from one or more of many causes, some of which are described above. She might also be putting too much pressure on herself. Or you might unintentionally be putting undue academic pressure on her. Or she may be afraid of the consequences of failing, for example, being grounded, or Dad going “ballistic”. Reducing anxiety is easier said than done. You may need to seek additional help to unravel the cause of the anxiety.
You may be interested in knowing how anxiety affects the brain. Regardless of the cause of the anxiety, the effect is that the child’s mind goes blank. Neueroscience research shows that high anxiety causes the part of the brain that stores information to stop sending signals to the part of the brain that remembers information and can write it down. So, if your child says, “My mind went blank,” it’s because part of her brain stopped communicating other parts of her brain, and, her mind really did go blank
Instead of shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I guess she’s just not a good test taker,” try to identify why. Once you identify the causes of the problem, your child will be able to learn effective strategies to overcome or to compensate for them. And her test grades will improve, often dramatically.
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