In almost any math course I teach, one of the most common problems students identify is that of taking tests. Even students who seem to be learning well during a specific unit can suddenly perform dismally on a unit examination. To help them do better on my tests, I used an exercise from the On Course text’s Facilitator’s Manual. I did this activity one week before we were scheduled to have our first exam.
- to remind students of test-taking strategies they may have used successfully in the past.
- to provide students with new test-taking strategies.
- to improve students’ scores on math tests (though this approach will helps students in any course).
- Paper and Pens
- Camera projection system
1. Begin with an introduction to the problem of test taking. I say, “I wish I had a dime for each time a student has said to me, ‘I understood it all at home but when I took the test, my mind just went blank.’ We have our first exam next week, and I don’t want that to happen to you. Some of you have great strategies for taking tests, and others might like some help, so let’s gather some suggestions.”
2. Put students into groups of three or four, and tell them to list and be ready to share as many ideas as possible for test-taking strategies of two types: those to use BEFORE the test and those to use DURING the test. I provided two examples for them: “In the morning before a test, I am best off NOT looking at course material, because I sometimes get confused and it damages my confidence. During a test, I usually divide the time available by the number of questions to get a rough idea of the time I have per question, and then try to use that as a rough guideline to be sure I don’t fixate on one question for too long.” Allow about 10 minutes.
3. Ask each group to contribute one or two strategies for BEFORE and DURING the test. As the strategies are offered, record them for display on the ELMO or overhead transparency. I sometimes make clarifying comments or rephrase the ideas slightly to make them easier to remember on reading them later.
4. At the conclusion of this discussion, provide the following writing prompt: “Which of the ideas that the groups came up with will you try for our test coming up? Why?” Ask students to answer this at home and turn in their response by the end of the week.
5. As soon as possible (ideally that same class period), duplicate the lists of test-taking strategies and distribute copies to the students.
6. After the exam, have students respond to a new writing prompt: “Did you use any of the test taking strategies we compiled last week? If so, how effective do you think the strategies were for you on this exam? What changes would you make for next time?” Optional: Hold a discussion based on this writing prompt.
Based on the energy level in the room, students seemed to enjoy the activity and see value in it. Students who felt they knew how to prepare for tests seemed pleased to get a chance to “share the wealth.” On the other hand, students who were not so confident were open to the ideas and seemed willing to admit to their colleagues that they were looking for ideas.
During the whole-group sharing time, several students who are not typically vocal in class were the first to share their ideas, a positive collateral benefit I had not anticipated. However, most students did not respond to the “Why?” portion of the writing prompt, so they did not dig as deep into their test taking styles as I would have liked.
Here are the lists my students compiled:
BEFORE the Test:
- Do all the assigned homework; keep up with the class!
- Do a variety of practice problems to get ready, not just the ones you already know.
- Know how to use your calculator, and be sure to bring your calculator to the test.
- Review the quizzes we had, look at your mistakes, correct them, and use the problems to write similar ones for practice test questions.
- Form a study group and meet regularly.
- Get plenty of rest the night before the test, eat a good breakfast, and get to class on time.
- Use mnemonic devices to memorize formulas you might need to know. [Although I don’t actually emphasize memorization in my class, I let this one stay on the list!]
- Read through your class notes and write a summary of all the topics.
- Go to the Math/Science Center as needed to meet with tutors, or go see the professor for help.
- Visualize yourself doing well on the test!
DURING the test:
- Solve the problems you know first; guess on the rest!
- Show as much work as you can for partial credit.
- Take a holistic approach to taking the test. [This suggestion came from several general comments about being centered, relaxed, perhaps using prayer as a resource…so we summarized with the term “holistic.”]
- Check to see that your answers make sense in the context.
- Never change an answer unless you are SURE you have a better one to replace it! [I added this one myself-it is the worst thing I see students do.]
- Read and follow all directions.
- If you have time, go back over the test to make sure you have answered everything.
- Pace yourself-don’t rush.
- Skim over the test as you begin.
- Do problems with the most points attached as soon as possible.
- Ask the instructor if you have any questions about anything on the test; she can always refuse to answer, but you have nothing to lose!