Methods to get students more comfortable with tests?
A short answer is practice practice practice.
Maths tutoring is not just about drilling content into the heads of students – we need to teach students how to study effectively, find their own learning strategies, how to prepare for exams, and very importantly (but often overlooked) how to manage themselves within an exam. It is amazing how many students never consider the importance of exam skills. Many tutors also never spend the time that this area deserves. Many students just expect that if they understand the content and can do most of the questions in their textbook then they will do well in an exam. Usually this isn’t true.
Important considerations in an exam are:
- Stress and anxiety which in turn leads to poor thinking.
- There are ways to manage these fear driven challenges but there is no effective way that works for all students.
- Breathing techniques Making sure the student really knows their work before hand to instill confidence
- Believe systems about learning and their intelligence
- Physiology of the student can contribute to anxiety if they are physically tense
- Handling the situations when you can’t answer a question
- Make sure to at least write something
- Controlling emotions when this happens
- Self questioning process for problem solving
- know when to not waste your time and move on
- Managing time within an exam –
- which questions to do and which questions to leave.
- Which part to do first, which part to leave until last.
- Doing working out in such a way that marks are maximized.
- relative neatness and readability
- structure of working out so it is easy to back check
- avoiding messy crossing out and scribbles
These are probably the four main areas of exam technique that we would identify. Obviously there are other ways that this can be broken down but if you discuss this with your student there will definitely be points that they relate more to and other points that they don’t. For example they may relate to having anxiety in exams because they feel like they don’t know their work but not be advanced enough to be aware of their working out habits or even appreciate the concept.
There is no way to improve a student’s comfort with tests unless you give them practice performing under pressure. Force them to do practice tests under timed conditions and set up a reward/punishment system so that they really feel the pressure – maybe get their parents involved. Also, practice will help but strategic practice will help much more. Discuss the points above with your student, make them aware of their exam weaknesses, try to isolate 1-3 points for them to focus on first. After each practice exam discuss their performance in regard to the points of improvement above you chose to work on. Gradually they should develop a comfort.