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  • Test prep: Help improve students’ learning skills at the start of school

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  • If your child suffers from test anxiety — butterflies in the stomach, gnawing on the pencil, feeling shaky or sweaty — it’s a good idea to start the school year with a test-taking strategy in place.
    “Many children struggle with test-taking,” said psychologist Blythe Grossberg, author of “Test Success.” While some children have a freestanding anxiety, for most kids, “part of the anxiety stems from a lack of understanding the material and a lack of preparation,” said Grossberg, who is in private practice to help students succeed at competitive private schools and a consultant to New York’s Themba Tutors. “The key to test-taking strategy is to understand that it doesn’t start when you’re studying for the test. It starts the minute the material is presented in class.”
    ‘Starts with learning’
    Regardless of age, students can do certain things to assure better test-taking — mainly, don’t be passive in their studies and don’t wait until the last minute.
    “Test-taking starts with learning,” Grossberg said.
    Too many children don’t realize they’re not understanding the material. They don’t stop the teacher and ask questions. They mistakenly think it will all come together later, but when they finally face the test, they realize they’re not prepared.
    “Math is a great example. If a student is struggling with their homework, that’s not going to magically go away when he takes the test,” Grossberg said.
    Students have to speak up and advocate for themselves. Go in and ask the teacher for extra help. Make a friend in class and study together. Review your notes regularly. Create your own study guide. Many textbooks now offer online components that students can use to study by taking pre-tests, which are also often located at the end of a chapter.
    Study skills
    When a child is a poor test-taker, he often has poor study skills, which means he’s too passive in his studying. You can picture it: a child “studying” by simply flipping through a textbook page after page. That’s not going to pull in a good grade, Grossberg said.
    Another problem of poor test-takers is that they don’t give themselves enough time to study. They cram the night before, which doesn’t give their brains enough time to consolidate the information, Grossberg said.
    “Space out the studying over the course of days. Most people learn best by studying in short bursts of time when concentration is at the optimal level and you’re not tired,” Grossberg said. Ideally, students should study in increments of 30 to 45 minutes a night, she said.
    Staying up late to study doesn’t work because your body needs sleep to allow it to store the material in a long term way, she said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Work backwards from test day and give yourself enough time to study,” Grossberg said.
    Another important strategy is to find out the format of the test, because that will affect the way you review the material.
    “You study for a multiple choice test differently than for an essay test in which you have to actively recall the information on your own,” Grossberg said.
    For an essay test, consider potential responses to questions that may be asked. A student may not know the exact questions, but he’ll know what the teacher spent the most time on. Briefly outline your response with supportive statements.
    It’s more work to prepare in this way but it will guarantee success — and will help banish the butterflies, too.

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