Sometimes I work with students who perform well during our lessons, but who struggle when it comes to actually taking the test. It turns out the reason for this might be genetic.
When we experience stress, our prefrontal cortex is flooded with dopamine. Some of us are coded with a gene that slowly removes the dopamine, while others have a variant that rapidly removes it. The prefrontal cortex is critical for planning and decision-making, and it performs best when an optimal level of dopamine is maintained. Normally, on many cognitive tests, people with the slow variant of the gene perform better. But in stressful, high-stakes situations the opposite happens: those with the fast variant do better. Thus people with the slow variant have been dubbed Worriers, and those with the fast variant, Warriors.
However, being a Worrier does not mean you will inevitably be a victim of chronic underperformance in stressful situations. In one of the studies...
Between ACT and SAT preparation, strategies may differ in some specific ways, yet the overall objective is the same: build confidence, reduce time, improve accuracy.
Confidence ... why? Does confidence matter?
Yes! Here's why --
1 - Neurochemically. Confidence lets us give the thinking brain its proper attention. When we feel anxious or otherwise flooded with emotion, the stress / alert chemicals actually interfere with cognition.
2 - Cognitively. Confidence lets us assess competing options more effectively, in order to identify and take calculated risks while avoiding impulsivity.
3 - Intuitively. Confidence provides feedback to let us know when we are appropriately prepared. When we feel a lack of confidence, the feeling, itself, indicates that we have overlooked something important. When we have fully prepared and are sure we have done so, the feeling of confidence...
Sure, we have all heard our math teachers say "Study for your test tomorrow." While we can all agree the importance of studying and getting prepared for an exam, not many math teachers actually tell you HOW to study. I am sure we have all spent time making flash cards, staring at our notes, or watching last minute videos on youtube, only to realize the test results often don't correlate to our effort. Before long, these upsetting experiences and test results created a scar in our minds, that statement we have all heard before: I am just not good at math.
The truth of the matter is, many people who have expressed their inability to understand and perform well on mathematics simply don't know how to study for a math exam. After all, those negative signs and multiple choice questions are often so tricky, even though you calculated every step correctly until the very end, all it took was one single mindless error that can well ruin the entire result. If we closely...
I have noticed that a lot of students are bright, knowledgeable, prepared, and eager to succeed.
Yet, when it comes to test time, they might as well have not studied at all. It's the nerves!! I have no explanation for why nerves cause such problems, and I definitely don't have a fix-all. Unfortunately, if you have anxiety, it's just something you'll have to deal with.
Here's a few tips:
No coffee before tests. I know you think it relaxes you, but it doesn't.
no cigarettes. Yes, believe it or not some high school kids smoke. Wait until after the test to singe your lungs.
no cramming. You either know it or you dont, so goto sleep and eat breakfast in peace.
try eating unsalted almonds or raw spinach, but defintely not salted almonds or cooked spinach.
if you're nervous, call your tutor. if you don't have a tutor and are nervous,...
I have recently begun teaching my students about how to take a test. One hint: it's not a book that you have to read cover to cover. Go throughout the whole test and find something that you can answer without hesitation. This will give you a burst of confidence to complete the exam successfully.
How to avoid the "freeze" during a quiz, test, or exam:
First, let's talk about what "the freeze" is. The freeze is usually a sort of momentary panic, that makes it very hard to concentrate and focus and solve problems. Does that sound at all familiar? Many students experience it at least once in their lives, and some students face it frequently. When we have a moment of panic, our adrenaline kicks in. We go into "fight or flight" mode, and certain parts of the brain are chemically over-stimulated by the adrenaline. When we are in "fight or flight" mode, it is very hard to concentrate and do challenging problems like math and science problems. Sometimes it takes a long time to calm down and get the adrenaline out of our system. A strong panic can wipe out our best thinking skills for an entire test period, and give us a score that does not represent our actual level of understanding at all. We can actually know most of the material,...
How to avoid the "freeze" during a quiz, test, or exam:
First, let's talk about what "the freeze" is. The freeze is usually a sort of momentary panic, that makes it very hard to concentrate and focus and solve problems. Does that sound at all familiar? Many students experience it at least once in their lives, and some students face it frequently. When we have a moment of panic, our adrenaline kicks in. We go into "fight or flight" mode, and certain parts of the brain are chemically overstimulated by the adrenaline. That makes it hard to focus.
When we are in "fight or flight" mode, it is very hard to concentrate and do challenging problems like math and science problems. Sometimes it takes a long time to calm down and get the adrenaline out of our system. A strong panic can wipe out our best thinking skills for an entire test period, and give us a score that does not represent our actual level of understanding at...
This is an oddly effective right-brain activity that works well with left-brain tests.
How many times have you encountered a science or math question on an exam that seemed as if you were close to it...it's on the tip of your tongue (so to speak)...but you just keep waffling. This is particularly dangerous on a multiple-choice question. There are usually two wrong answers. Get rid of them immediately. Then, you usually find yourself going back and forth between the correct response and one that looks like it's suspiciously a great lead. The latter is called a "red herring", and it's intentionally designed to confuse you (no, it's not your imagination). So, go with your first instinct. It is often the correct one. If you don't have any truly compelling reason - such as the right answer suddenly striking you across the forehead by a cosmic 2X4 - then you shouldn't start changing answers.
I can't tell you how many times people have second-guessed...
Just because you feel that you have a concept or subject well in hand does not mean that you can pass a test on it with flying colors. This is especially true in math and in tests where a broad level of subject matter is covered. And, there is one simple reason why.
Students are taught content and more content, but are not often taught to practice that content quickly. Over years of test taking and teaching subjects where the goal is to pass a test, I always have my students get a timer. A simple kitchen timer does the trick, and you can find them all over the place if you take a look.
I never start any student off with a timer because I don't think being timed while still learning a subject helps anything. (And, in fact, I think it hinders learning to be hassled by a clock when you don't have a subject mastered.) Once the student shows that they understand some portion of the subject, however, I bring in that timer. I ask them to practice what they now...
Educational administration, whether at a small college or a major university, requires a lot of tactical efforts, not just educational efforts. Think about all those courses and who must determine their time slots and assign classroom space. Think of the first day of a semester when students are rushing to find out where their class meets. Imagine if you had a job where your office location changed several times a year!
But even with all that planning, so many colleges seem to select a different classroom for a final exam than the classroom in which the course was conducted. The problem--according to a good deal of psychological research--is that you do best when your exam is in the same room as the one you study in. Think about this. Lots of students find a study space that they find just right, and it becomes "their" space. Students sit down in a classroom filled with empty chairs, and that chair you first selected ends up being the one you always go to.
I've always hated taking tests. The time limits, the tricky questions, the true or false sections, etc... every aspect of test-taking has made me want to quit. Over the years I developed a few tricks of my own to help me get through tests.
Make the questions personal.
Questions are often written with from a third person point of view. Think of the question differently.
For example, "Jack bought 6 pencils for a quarter each. How much did Jack spend?"
Well, I don't care about Jack and his shopping experience so I make the question meaningful for myself.
I think to myself, " I bought 6 purple pencils for a quarter each at the book fair. How much did
This way of thinking about questions helped me through a lot of boring math tests!
Read through the multiple choice answers.
First read the instructions and the question.
Then read the multiple choice answers. It will help you understand the question...
Most people that I know feel that multiple choice questions on a test are a double-edged sword. On one hand, the right answer is somewhere right in front of you; you just have to pick it. On the other hand, multiple choice questions will do everything within their power to confuse you and lead you away from that right answer. Here are a few of my strategies for getting it right:
*50/50 - Does anyone watch Who Wants to Be a Millionaire anymore? I know I don't, but I do remember it. So, for those of us who either watch or remember it, think about the 50/50 lifeline. They'd eliminate two wrong answers out of the four potential choices. This is a great place to start! Eliminate anything that you know to be blatantly wrong. If possible, I like to physically cross it out on my test (in pencil, in case I change my mind). That way, you know what you can ignore when selecting your answer.
*Absolute words - This means words that are superlative or absolute, like "always," "never,"...
In 2001 I worked at a juvenile prison for boys under 18. One of my tasks was to give every entering student a reading test; he would take the identical test when he was to be released as much as 3 years later.
Most delinquents have had educational problems so when I announced this test they would groan or become frightened. To each one I said, “I have a secret for taking tests. Studies have shown that caffeine in coffee or chocolate and sugar will improve your brain. I will give you a small candy bar (coffee was not allowed for prisoners) before the test and you can see how much better you do.”
I bought a bag of small candy bars, mostly Snickers, and kept them for this purpose. The results were amazing, so amazing that my supervisor bought a whole bag of bars for me. Every single student who took the test (except one) improved their grade. The prison officials were happy because it looked as though they were doing a bang-up job in teaching.
Why was this effective? First,...