This is a popular topic among the parents here at JAMS.
Every parent invested in their child’s education has felt it: the frustration upon learning a test was botched. It’s never fun to hear about the messed-up bubble sheet, the broken pencil, or the confusion the child felt with the instructions or the questions on the test.
Whether your child is 5 or 15, they can benefit from learning and being reminded of successful strategies for taking tests. In “Strengthening the Student Toolbox,” Kent State Professor John T. Dunlosky shares that the most effective method for harnessing your child’s abilities is through practice testing.
As a parent, we should train our kids to utilize various practice test materials. One trick is to read the material, cover it up and recall the details, i.e. a “practice” test. That has proven to be more effective than simply re-reading the material. This is one way to make sure that your child has gained or sharpened the skills required to ace a particular test.
There’s another factor that you should take into consideration: Does your child know how to follow the test instructions? Having taught many children, I know for certain, that in order to perform well on an exam, your child needs to accomplish two crucial tasks:
1) Your child must understand the latent abilities being evaluated, whatever they may be, and
2) Your child must be able to show what he knows during the test itself. This part will require test-taking skills.
Yes, that’s correct. Parents should realize that the child might not be able to display his full potential if he is not able to understand the test instructions. So, in addition to helping your child with practice testing, equip them with the skills needed to survive the test. Here are some easy areas to address:
When your child says, “I don’t know”
This is totally understandable. Believe me, a lot of kids will just shrug their shoulders and say these words. Well, the truth is they probably have an idea of the correct answer, but they are not 100% certain. So, they punt.
I often notice this behavior among children who are being tested. Unfortunately, exam proctors are not allowed to encourage during the actual test, so you can’t expect a little nudge from them when your child is experiencing an “I don’t know” moment.
The solution is to teach your child not to say “I don’t know” as much as possible, all of the time. Remind him to always provide his best guess. When he is not sure, point out that giving his best guess is better than not answering at all.
When your child gets intimidated by the demeanor of an unfamiliar tester
Younger children who will take a big test soon should be encouraged to be relaxed with “safe” strangers. Expose your child to safe strangers such as store clerks, mall cops, waiters, your close friends, and the other teachers and staff at his school.
Another tip is to tell him that the tester is a teacher … just like his favorite teacher. Name-drop his favorite teacher, and it will help him become comfortable around the tester.
Last, don’t rush. Prepare ahead of time, and take your own sweet time. Don’t add to his stress by constantly reminding him to make it fast or he will be late for the exam.
When your child does not understand what to do
This happens a lot with children who do not have experience in taking a test. A common test for young students is to be asked to choose one from among a set of three pictures. Only one picture is correct, but the child might choose the wrong one because he chose the one he personally likes. Perhaps it was the picture that was most vibrant or most visually appealing.
Explain to him that he must listen carefully to the given instructions. You and he can discuss all three pictures. Explain to him why, according to the test instructions, one picture is the correct answer, and why the other two pictures are wrong answers. After doing multiple practice exams, like suggested in the beginning, I’m certain that your child will better understand what needs to be done when it’s time to take that test!