Published: June 20, 2019
The further along in their education a child progresses, the more essential for developing the skills to do well on exams becomes. Exams are a central part of the curriculum in middle schools and high schools across Ontario, and in many cases, a significant portion of a student’s final grade will be a result of how well they do on mid-term and final exams.
This is not only true in the sciences and math, where exams are the main method by which competence is measured and judged, but even the curriculum of more composition-oriented disciplines like history, social studies, and literature.
For this reason, one of the most important skills a young student can learn is how to prepare for exams in a way that helps ensure a positive outcome without requiring an overwhelming investment of time.
Don’t Just Learn the Material, Learn the Test
It is a truism in the world of education that exam taking involves two separate competencies: not only do students need to understand the particular material about which they are being tested, they also need to understand how to excel in the test format itself.
While looking at exam preparation study tips can be incredibly helpful in terms of helping students study effectively, it is also important for students to be able to read a test with an eye to understanding what kind of answers it is looking for, and how they can provide them.
A student who has a deep knowledge of the course material can still do poorly on an exam if they are careless about time management, or if they do not understand the particular requirements of different portions of the exam itself. Test taking is itself a skill, and one that students should work to develop early on in their academic careers.
While we have offered must have study-tips on this blog in the past to help students use their study time more effectively, today we have prepared some new tips specifically designed to help students sharpen their test-taking skills. While there is no magic formula to test taking — and there is no substitute for the hard work of studying — there are a few things every student can due to improve their effectiveness as exam-takers.
1. Start the Exam by Reviewing Each Section
One of the biggest problems students run into when taking long exams is that they often give themselves insufficient time for each section. Two or three hours may seem like ample time to get through all the material, but at the high school level most exams are designed to take up the entire period, so budgeting your time carefully is essential if you don’t want to run out of time.
In most subjects (especially in the academic stream), tests will be divided into multiple choice, short answer, and long answer sections. In chemistry, physics, and biology, you may also need to identify the parts of a diagram or plot formulas on a graph. Calculating how long each of these sections will take and then divvying up time accordingly may take a few minutes at the top of the exam, but it will pay dividends later on by helping to ensure that every section is completed in a timely fashion.
2. Get Test Prep Help From a Tutor
While students are on their own when it comes time to actually take the exam, having some extra help in the weeks leading up to it can have a huge impact, especially if they have access to a tutor who can help them work through practice exams and provide them with helpful pointers on how to manage their time.
Engaging a tutor isn’t just useful if you have a child who is struggling in school; tutors can be great coaches for any student who wants a little more help sharpening their test taking skills so they can reach their full academic potential. For information about how you can find a tutor in your area, contact us to learn more about our tutoring philosophy and the different ways our tutors can help with test prep.
3. Do a Memory Dump
A memory dump can be a helpful way to start an exam with the knowledge you need in front of you. In a memory dump, you start the exam by writing out some of the key information you believe you will need to have at your fingertips.
Once you’ve reviewed the different sections of the exam and know how long you need for each, you can write down the formulas, terms, or even quotes that you plan on using in your answers. This will help stimulate your memory, and can organically lead into answering some of the harder questions while the knowledge is fresh.
4. Focus on the Curriculum
Exams exist to test students on what they’ve learned, so the best way to prepare for an exam is to think critically about what the main learning objectives of a unit or course have been. For example, if a language arts class spent a lot of time focussing on the classic five-part essay structure, there is a good chance that students will be expected to reproduce this information on the exam.
This means that a question asking students to write an essay comparing 1984 to Brave New World is really asking students to demonstrate their understanding of this five-part structure, rather than testing them on their in-depth literary knowledge of these novels.
Test taking is, for most students, a stressful experience, but according to some experts, levels of anxiety around test taking among students are rising. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given how much is riding on this one measure of academic ability.
Fortunately, as with things like math anxiety, there are ways to help students prepare themselves in advance so that they feel more in control of the situation, and better able to perform. It is important to remember that most students who attend class and do their homework will actually have a fairly good command of the information they are being given — the challenge is in demonstrating this knowledge in the high stress conditions of an exam.
By learning to allocate time strategically, do memory dumps, focus on the curriculum, and work through practice tests with a tutor, your child can develop the practical skills that will help them build their confidence and unlock their academic potential.