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Advice about Test Taking

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School & Preschool > Advice about Test Taking


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How to help Teen w/test taking

Oct 2009

My son has always been a bad test taker; knows his stuff,hard working...but when it comes to tests he cannot focus well enough to get good grades on them. Mostly he makes really silly mistakes that cost him points. His teachers are baffled because he knows the material well enough for homework and classwork. So, I am wondering how to help him be better prepared/focused for test taking. Since test scores are usually 50% of grade and PSAT/SAT's are coming up I really need to know strategies for him to succeed. Are there any professional people who can help w/focus issues? What have you done w/out professional help for test taking strategies? Need help


Has you son been tested for visual problems that interfere with eye movements, such as tracking, teaming, convergence? My child had a similar problem with tests, small errors on math problems, slow reading speed, despite being an A student and having no problems on routine eye exams. Dr Carole Hong at Family Vision Care in San Carlos found problems with other aspects of vision that aren't tested at the routine eye exam (basically the eyes weren't working together effectively) and prescribed vision therapy, a series of specialized exercises, for the specific problems. This made an amazing difference. We were only sorry that the problem wasn't identified until middle school, since in retrospect it had been there all along. I would definitely consider this. Here are some web sites with more information: visionforlearning.org; www.aoa.org; http://www.visiontherapystories.org/resources_school_nurses.html; and Dr Hong's website: www.familyvisioncare.org/visiontherapy.html Berkeley mom
Once fundamental content is mastered and test-taking strategies are learned (or ignored, if you prefer) then what's left is the kind of practice one should bring to an athletic or stage performance: analysis, and repetition.

Using the SAT as an example, I'd have your son do the following:

1) Sit and take a portion of a practice test (e.g. from the official College Board book of past tests).

2) Have someone else grade it so that he knows which answers are wrong, but not what the correct answers are.

3) Retry those questions, noting in the margin anything that would be helpful on encountering a similar problem in the future.

Then, at each future study session: review all such past margin-notes and repeat steps 1-3.

Self-analysis is the core of good testing ability, and practice makes permanent. ''Careless'' mistakes are, as you note, a problem of focus. One good way to improve focus is to provide structure such as the above; then the brain has a thread to focus on. Best of luck! Wes


I resorted to professional help. Yes, there are people who do just TEST TAKING skills. The standardized tests build in tricks - I don't know why but they do. I'm sure someone will recommend some of the tutors who prepare you for SAT, etc.

For us the bigger issue was being prepared, feeling confident (messing up on tests hurts your child's self esteem) and building more academic skills. We went to Phyllis Koppelman at Strategies for Learning. After just one session I had an ''AH HA'' moment. All my parental tutoring simply was not as good as a professional who knew the tricks of the trade. Additionally, we had used a young tutor before who actually use put-downs as a "motivator" (my child was NOT motivated). Phyllis is kind and develops a relationship with your child. She uses humor, praise and honest critiques. My son finally admitted to himself that while he is a good writer, writing is very hard for him and he simply must devote additional time to it. On the other hand, math is a breeze - so hurray for that. Her website is www.strategiesforlearning.com Mom of a test hater


17-year-old's problems with math and science tests

March 2009

My 17 y.o. son is having problems with math and science tests. He has had various private and commercial tutors and is currently enrolled in Sylvans study skill program. All his teachers and tutors have said that he is an exceptionally bright guy and they don't know what the problem is. He doesn't know what the problem is. He doesn't panic and has even thought he did well only to get a bad grade.Any one had this situation and have some good suggestions? This has been so frustrating for all of us.


My son was also very bright but tested poorly, mainly in math. After trying several tutors, I finally found Paul Gee, a math tutor, who helped him tremendously. He was very patient working with my son, and also quite communicative with me as a parent. Paul said that he has dealt with quite a few such students. He explained that some bright students learn concepts very quickly, but either do not spend the time and/or do not have the patience to learn the problem solving procedures, thus performing poorly on tests. He said one other sign of this type of student is that in their homework they may give the correct answer, but either can't or don't want to show how they got the answer. You might give Paul a call at 510-502-8465 to discuss your situation. We feel fortunate that he was able to help us. Good luck.
I’m a private tutor and have also put together a study skills course and test taking skills seminar for a local high school.

The thing that struck me is that kids often “don’t know what they don’t know.” The strategies to overcome this are:
• To complete all review sheets/end of chapter tests, etc. WITHOUT using notes or referring to the book.
• Flashcards for facts (shuffle them)
• Recitation—perhaps the most powerful. Tell another person about the subject and be ready to answer their questions. Could consider this as teaching someone the subject.
• Make a one page sheet of all formulas or other information needed for the test. Even if its not allowed to be taken in to the test, the fact that the child has done it is still a very powerful mental reference.

In Math and Science, the key is not in knowing the details and rules— it is in recognizing ‘where on the trail’ you are, what info you have, what you’re asked to do, and then developing a problem solving strategy—including what ‘tools’ (formulas, etc.) you’ll need to proceed. See Polya’s method on problem solving.

Kinda baffling that your son thinks he did well and then finds out that he didn’t. That would require some ‘post mortem’ and error analysis of individual tests, paying particular attention to the process –including the though process, not just the math or science stuff. Many kids want so much to do well, that they convince themselves that they actually did well, because they don’t want to think differently.

Hope this is useful to you. DS


Teen with Poor Test-taking Skills

My 15-yr old son is getting decent grades but he doesn't do as well on tests as we think he could and I'm sure it has to do with his test-taking skills, not his knowledge of the subject matter. Does anyone have suggestions about classes or training for students who want to improve test taking abilities? Thanks.
My 16 year old daughter just started SAT prep tutoring which includes a lot of test taking skills. The tutor is tailoring the sessions to her needs which are in the verbal section of the test. No results yet (her second SAT I exam is on May 1), but the tutor was recommended by a reputable educational consultant. I spoke with the tutor this evening and found that he tutors many kids with various academic abilities on test taking skills. He comes to your home and charges $50 cash/$55 check per hour. His name and contact information is:
 Paul Osborne
      2342 Shattuck Ave., #223
      Berkeley, CA  94704-1517
      301-5302
      paulthetutor AT bigfoot.com

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