Wednesday, March 2, 2011


"How'd your test go?"

Heavy sigh. "Well, when the teacher handed out the test, I looked at it and thought, 'Am I in the right room?'"

Definitely not a good sign!

One of the reasons I like for my kids to take a couple of classes on campus while they are still completing their high school requirements at home is so that they can see how they will react to and process different aspects of a traditional classroom. Taking a math test at the kitchen table is a totally different ballgame from taking one in a college classroom!

For most of my kids, taking tests is rather like having a school holiday. "Test today? Awesome!" Not so for my high school junior...which makes his on-campus class this term so valuable. He's not learning math - he's learning to identify and deal with test anxiety in a classroom environment.

The first test didn't go so well. He said he looked at the first page and drew a total blank. Tick, tick, tick... Second page - mental blank. Flip. Flip. Flip. The last several pages were multiple choice: "Which graph illustrates the function f(x)=-----, reflected over the x-axis and shifted four units to the right." At this point, his brain kicked on and he worked easily through the remaining problems. Final score? Let's just say it was a bust.

"So, when you were sitting there looking at the first page of your test, was it like your mind completely blanked out? Like it was nothing but a white screen?"

"That's exactly what it was like!" He seemed relieved at the thought that maybe someone else had experienced the same thing. "It was like I had never seen one of those problems before in my life...I was just looking at weird scribbles on a page."

Funny thing is, when he got the test back (with its abysmal score), he sat down at the kitchen counter and worked through every one of the problems. "Hey, I know how to do this." He seemed surprised that the problems were really not difficult, amazed that they had looked so foreign and unintelligible on test day.

Test 2 is next week and we're already strategizing. First off, he's going to start at the back of the test, with the multiple choice problems. Then, once his brain has warmed up and relaxed a little, maybe Page 1 won't trigger such a freak out. He's doing LOTS of review problems in preparation - maybe manipulating third-degree equations and using synthetic division can become more of a reflex, with enough practice.

I know some of you are teachers and several of you are experienced test takers. Any suggestions for dealing with test anxiety? Any tips for avoiding a mental white out?

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