Ask the Teacher: Test-Taking Strategies

Ask the Teacher is a monthly column from our magazine, written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Deb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected].                        

We have the opportunity to take a short vacation in February, but it doesn’t coincide with my kids’ no-school days. Is it a bad idea to have a third and a fifth grader miss a few days of school for a trip?
To take your children out of school for a few days for a special family vacation is not, in and of itself, a bad idea. The chance to spend time together is very valuable to children’s development and to your family unit in general.
There are, however, a few things to take into consideration. First, check the school’s absence policy, which can vary a great deal from one school district to another. Some schools allow make up work to be done upon return from a vacation, usually under specified time limits. Others see vacations as unexcused absences and will not accept work that was missed and may not allow tests to be taken upon return. (Student attendance may be a factor in the school’s evaluation or accreditation.) You may have to weigh the impact this might have on your child’s grade.
Another factor to think about is each of your children’s stress levels. Will missing a few days and having a sense of being behind add anxiety for your children that will hamper their vacation experience or will impact re-entry into school upon your return? Even if the trip seems like a great opportunity to you, your children may not be comfortable missing school.
An additional consideration is what information will be missed. If the curriculum to be covered while your children would be gone is light, or is something you feel comfortable helping them understand, this may be a non-issue. However, if your children will be challenged to grasp what they missed in the classroom, you may consider a short-term tutor to get them back up to speed.
Test-taking seems beyond my eighth grader. He studies and studies, but his test grades do not show it. He is becoming very frustrated. Do you have and ideas about what he can do to improve?
Have your son define very specifically how he is preparing. He should be able to describe exactly what strategies he is using, when and where he is studying, and how much time he is giving to the preparation.
If he is reading over a prepared study guide several times or working through a computer-generated review game, he may think he knows the material. Instead, he may just be recognizing concepts rather than having a genuine understanding of them. For some students that is enough to master the material, but for many it is not. He may have the misconception that he has spent a great deal of time studying, but if this time is interrupted by social media or by other distractions it will not be effective.
Encourage your son to begin test prep as soon as new content is provided, even if the test is weeks away. Spending a few minutes each day reviewing the material from his classes can be a real game-changer. Noting where he may need clarification on something and asking about it early on will solidify his understanding in a way that waiting until just prior to the test cannot. He can do this by highlighting his notes, making a list of key terms on paper, or creating a brief summary in his own words from that day’s lesson.
When my daughter sits down to do her homework after school, she just cannot concentrate. It takes her forever to get just a little bit of work done. I keep trying to redirect her attention to her work, but she gets angry. Our evenings get off to a terrible start. Any suggestions for what we can do?
After an after school break, your daughter should come up with her own plan for homework. Have her look over the assignments she has and estimate how much time each assignment will require. Suggest that she put the things she likes most at the end of her list and the things she like least at the beginning. Scheduling a break between subjects or at specific times throughout her work may help her maintain focus long enough to accomplish what she needs to.
Write out the plan that your daughter creates and keep it nearby. Should she not stick to the plan, you can say, I see that your plan says you would be working on X right now. I am not sure how what you are doing is meeting your plan.” Turning the responsibility over to her for what she needs to get done, rather than making it something you are requiring of her, should help remove the tension from the homework scene.

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