When I was a student, I can't tell you how many times I showed up to school and was surprised by a test. Sometimes, I had no idea there was a test that day, or thought it was a quiz when it was a final, or studied the wrong chapters. Many children find themselves in this same situation because teachers and parents assumed that their kids know what's going to be on a test, where to find that information, and how to study for it.
To help your child be prepared for tests, it's imperative that you help him develop a structure and routine to repeat every time a test comes around. Follow these four steps to help your child get on the right track:
Step 1: Create a Test Review Sheet
A test review sheet will help your child keep all the essential information about the test in one place. It's simple: Your child should have a notebook -- or a section of a notebook -- for recording the test date, what will be covered on the test, the type of test, and his plan for reviewing for the test.
Step 2: Know the Date
It seems obvious, but again, many kids find themselves surprised by a test. The first piece of information that needs to go on the review sheet, in bold, is the date of the exam.
Help your child keep track of test dates by asking his teacher for a tentative test schedule for the year. (If he is older, encourage him to do it for himself.) If you know a test is coming up, remind your child about a week in advance.
In this digital age, it's also reasonable to ask teachers to send out an email to both parents and students announcing any exams or quizzes. Lastly, tell your child that there is no shame in asking the teacher about the test date as many times as necessary, until it sticks.
Step 3: Know What's Covered and Where to Find It
Many students won't have a solid idea of what will be covered on a test before they begin reviewing. They might think the test will be a simple quiz and neglect to study the more complex ideas in the class, or conversely, they might assume that they need to know more information than is actually being tested. To avoid both of these situations, it is important to know the scope of the test (how much information it will cover) and the content of the test (i.e., a quiz on definitions, an essay test, or an exam on a specific reading).
Encourage your child to become very comfortable asking his teacher: "What will be covered on the upcoming test?" Tell him to ask as many times as necessary, and tell him to ask for specifics: What ideas, terms, books, readings, chapters, and themes will be covered? If that fails, here are some other ideas:
- Take advantage of class review or study sheets. This is most relevant for students in high school or middle school, but even some elementary school teachers hand out study guides or review sheets. If this is the case, encourage your child not to just read these little gems, but to use them to record in his own study guide (and in his own words) the scope and focus of the exam. Have him pay close attention to phrases like, "You will be expected to have reviewed all..." Also look for words like: "themes," "terms," "concepts," "arguments," and "theories" -- these are often cues to review important topics.
- Use the Course Outline. Course outlines (or syllabi) are used mostly in high school and sometimes middle school. The course outline can give you a great idea of what will be on a test and where to get that information. Have your child work backwards from the test date, noting the broad headings for each week and the specific assignments or details for each day of the week. These are the big ideas, and the readings and assignments that develop them. It's likely they will be covered on the test.
- Review with Old Exams and Old Students. Many teachers allow students to look at old tests (assuming they are not recycling tests). Reviewing old tests provides a great opportunity to get an idea of how much material is covered. Look at how the test is broken down (i.e., definitions, multiple choice, essay), and look at the type of material tested: Terms, concepts, processes, etc. Lastly, encourage your child to take a few minutes to chat with an old student about how much and what kind of information was covered.
Step 4: Pay Close Attention to the Type of Test
The last step in creating an effective review strategy is to spend a few minutes with your child thinking critically about what kind of test he'll be taking. Why? Different tests force the students to remember information in different ways. For example, if the test has a set of terms for identification, all your child has to know is the definition of those terms. However, if the test asks your child to use those same terms in an essay, your child has to know much more about the terms. Your goal is to help your child make a plan for review, such as: "For this test I am going to have to define terms, solve problems, and know the information well enough to write a essay."
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