Have a Math Test? 6 Proven Solutions to Study Smarter!

Let’s face it, math is different.  The study skills and processes your child has used in other subjects won’t necessarily serve her well when the time comes to prepare for a big math test.

What is the best way to study for math tests?  Our language provides an important clue.  We don’t say “do the history” or “do the English”, but we do say “do the math.”  Thus, it goes without saying that the first step in doing well in math is for your student complete her assigned homework problems on time before every class.  For the gifted few, this will be enough.  For the vast majority, this is only the beginning.  Here are some key steps to ensuring success on that big test:

  1. Pull It all Together
    Students can’t wait for the last minute.  Well before the big test, they should begin by gathering up all quizzes (and answer sheets or solutions given in class), homework, class notes and other study aids.  These problems will make the foundation for a practice math test.
  2. Find Areas of Weakness
    Next, your child should go through everything that has been graded, including homework and quizzes, and write down all the problems where credit was lost for other than obvious mistakes in calculation.  Questions from the math teacher’s quizzes, tests and study packets or even better yet – old versions of the test to be taken – are the ideal source for these practice tests because teachers so often recycle questions.
  3. Create a Practice Test
    The third step is to create a practice test using the problems just gathered and to work through it, problem by problem.  There’s no doubt that this takes time.  It is easy to forgo preparing a practice test because of the work involved in pulling it together, but it’s the best investment when it comes to studying for math.
    Testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. If you are facing an Algebra test, practicing the problems is far better than simply rereading notes.  The very act of writing a question and solving a problem also helps cement information in the brain.
  4. Use the Internet
    For students who aren’t willing to go the extra mile, consider one of the best websites out there for math.  Khan Academy, has placed 2,600 10-minute videos on math and science subject on its own You Tube channel.  When troubled by a math concept, there’s no better, more engaging place to go on the internet.
  5. Test Day Jitters
    Even when students are fully prepared, anxiety can be a huge burden on test day. An estimated 35 percent of students are so nervous before high-stakes tests that it impairs their performance. Reducing stress on the day of the exam can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.  Anxious students should set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down their worries. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly.
  6. Get Help
    If you find that as a parent, you’re not the best teacher for your child, consider hiring a tutor to teach these study skills.  A tutor comes to the table as a skilled and objective third party, without an emotional history with your child.  One-to-one attention can make the difference between grasping the material and falling further behind.

Just remember that math is a different animal from other subjects, but with just a few adjustments to studying, your child will be much more successful in the long run.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.ectutoring.com or ectutoring.com.

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

Are We Raising a Generation of “Calculator Kids” Who Can’t Do Math?

Forty years ago an Indiana electronics company brought a product to market that did more to change American K-12 education than almost anything else. The company, Bowmar Instruments, began selling the first handheld pocket calculator for a whopping $240!  By 1976, the cost of the cheapest four-function device had dropped to a few dollars and calculators were available to children in virtually every home.  And as a result, the way children learn and do math in the U.S. was forever changed.

Just the other day I was helping my eighth grade son with his algebra homework.  He was solving a fairly complicated equation and got down to the last step 7x=42.  He whipped out his calculator.  I said, “Will, you know this.  7 times what number is 42?”  He replied, “Uh, I really don’t know.  Why does it matter?  I’ll just use my calculator.” He proceeded to punch the numbers into his T1 84.

My son is a very good student, but his number sense is lacking.  Like many students who have used calculators in class from day one, he does not have an intuitive sense of the relationship between numbers.  Want to know if your child does?   Just ask him or her to figure the tip on the check next time you’re out for dinner.  Kids with number sense can mentally compute 10% and then add half of that to come up with 15% or double it for 20% and they can do it quickly.

There is a time and place for calculators, but their use should be coupled with instruction in critical thinking and number sense.  Sometimes kids will arrive at an incorrect answer to a math problem because they put the wrong numbers into their calculator.  When it spits out a wild answer, they have no idea it makes absolutely no sense.  Far too often, they don’t analyze the answer and think to themselves, “Does this make sense?”  Why?  Because they have complete faith in their all-knowing calculator.  Gadgets only get kids so far.  In the end, they must have number sense.

Recently, message boards and blogs serving high school and college math and science teachers have been brimming with articles about how to use WolframAlpha, a free web-based service that goes far beyond simple searches by providing answers to complicated questions in math and science. Go to wolframalpha.com and type in 3x^2+4=31 and the solutions x=3, x=-3 come back. Type in “the number of molecules in 1.2 pounds of sugar” and the result “9.58 X 1024“ returns.

Wolfram Alpha now is offering apps for the IPhone at the iStore and on the Android market for $1.99.  Nearly 100,000 paid copies have been downloaded on the Android Market alone. I worry that many will use Wolfram to avoid the pain of learning.  “Best $1.99 I’ve ever spent. It helps me endure math class. I owe these people my first born child,” one student recently wrote about the Wolfram app in a user review on the Android Market.

I’m all for it if students are FIRST taught how to solve problems without the crutch of the latest app.  Technology makes math easier, but it shouldn’t replace good old fashioned mental math and number sense.

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.ectutoring.com or ectutoring.com.

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

9 Easy Tips to Help Your Teen Study for a Test!

In classrooms across America, teachers strive to provide engaging lessons, meaningful homework, and assessments, but more often than not, our students aren’t learning how to learn. Kids walk out of their classrooms armed with study guides, notes, and chapters to read, but they don’t know how to put that information into storage for retrieval tomorrow, next week, or three months from now.

For many teens, studying means quickly reading through their textbook or notes. Wrong! Studying isn’t passive; it is a full contact sport. In order to really study, students need to get engaged in the material. This type of studying is very different from merely reading over the material. The following tips will help your child to properly prepare for the next upcoming test.

  1. Set the groundwork
    Helping a younger child study for a test might be a piece of cake, but so often, teens resist their well-meaning parents’ support. When you know a big test is coming up, approach your child early on. Consider asking, “Can you show me how you’re going to study?” Open a dialogue about how your son or daughter will prepare. Remember, the end grade isn’t as important as the preparation process.
  2. Use the study guide properly
    If you are reviewing test material with your child (or if he is doing so independently), encourage him to make connections instead of merely verbatim. For example, if you are asking your child to define terms for a biology test, ask not only the definitions of mitosis and meiosis, but also how they are the same and different. Helping your teen make connections between topics stimulates flexible thinking. This is important because the actual test questions may not be just as they appear on the study guide.
  3. Try out a 3×5 card
    When your child has a study guide or an old quiz from which to study, they should read the question, cover the answer with a 3×5 card, and try to recite the correct response. If they get it right, they check it off and go to the next one. If it’s wrong, they practice a few more times until they get it down.
  4. Utilize mnemonic devices
    Researchers have found that using mnemonic devices can help students improve their memory skills by connecting to-be-learned information to what the learner already knows. One common mnemonic device is HOMES, which is an acronym for the Great Lakes- Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. This strategy is flexible; it can be used with virtually any type of rote memorization. Once students are shown how to use this technique, they come up with all kinds of catchy acronyms to make retention easier.
  5. Let your teen hold the cards
    If your teen has flashcards that he needs to study, let him hold the cards and quiz you. Studies show that merely allowing the student to hold the cards and take on the role of the teacher increases time on task and retention of information. If your child is a visual learner, encourage him to draw a picture next to the term he is learning. This helps to create a mental image, which triggers the definition. For example, if the vocabulary word is “docile”, his drawing might be of his dog, who is good natured and easy to train.
  6. Make a practice test
    A highly effective way to prepare for an exam involves creating a practice test. This means that the student generates a sample test of questions he thinks might be on the exam. This information can come from old quizzes, a study guide, or notes. Encourage your child to ask the teacher about the test format. Will it be comprised of essay questions, fill-in-the-blank, or multiple-choice? This formation helps with preparation.
  7. Invite a friend over
    For some students, small group learning is far more appealing and productive than going it alone. Positive peer influence has been well documented to improve academic success, and as an added bonus, study groups are fun. Group discussion will help your teen absorb new information that he may otherwise miss just by reading.
  8. Plan ahead
    Practice makes permanent when studying for tests, especially when it’s done in advance. Once a deadline for a test is given by the teacher, your child should record it in his planner along with the smaller study tasks leading up to the final date. Breaking a large task, such as studying, into smaller ones over a period of days increases memory retention and decreases stress.
  9. Troubleshoot test anxiety
    Many students are quick to complain about test anxiety. Although some may be accurate in their self-diagnosis, others are nervous because they haven’t prepared properly. Perhaps they’ve read their notes, skimmed the chapter, and reviewed the study guide, but that is not true preparation. Quizzing oneself until the information is committed to memory is imperative. If an answer is “on the tip of his tongue,” it’s likely that it wasn’t stored into memory effectively and more work is needed.

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

10 Easy Tips to Help Your Elementary- Age Child Study for a Test!

Helping your child to study effectively for tests is vitally important in the elementary years. When the groundwork for good habits is set early on, students are more likely to experience success and increased motivation. You can make a difference in your child’s academic performance now and in the future by trying some of the following tips.

Studying for Math

  1. Use a dry erase board

    To practice for an upcoming test, write a few math problems on a small dry erase board. Kids love using dry erase boards and many prefer them over traditional pencil and paper. Try out different color markers, too. Color increases attention, so don’t be afraid of using bold hues.

  2. Play Beat the Clock

    Print out math facts that need to be memorized for an upcoming test from websites such as math-worksheets-generator.com or superkids.com. These sites allow the selection of specific facts such as multiplying with fours or addition of twos only. Practicing one fact pattern at a time leads to quicker mastery. Jot down the time it takes your child to work through the page. During the next practice session, set the timer for that amount of time and say, “I bet you can’t beat the clock!” Keep decreasing the time as your child progresses to automaticity.

Practicing for Spelling Tests

  1. Try Rainbow Writing

    Kids love Rainbow Writing for spelling words. Instead of writing the words over and over to practice, they trace the words with two or three different colored pencils. Using color helps kids to remember their spelling words on test day and this method is far more fun and interesting.

  2. Play the piano

    Often, when children learn with a hands-on approach, they are better able to lodge the information into long-term storage. Instead of asking your child to spell out loud, tell them to play the words on the piano – not a real piano, but to pretend his fingers are the piano keys. For example, one difficult word for kids to spell is “because”. Have your child tap his right pinky on the table and say “b”, then tap his right ring finger, and say “e”, and so on. Encourage him to pause between syllables so that it sounds like “b-e-/ c-a-u-s-e”.

  3. Select silly sentences

    Sometimes, common sight words don’t follow phonetic patterns. The word “friend” is one such example. Teach your child a silly sentence such as “Fri your friend to the end” to teach these tricky words.

Preparing for Science and Social Studies

  1. Utilize acronyms

    Researchers have found that using acronyms can help students improve their memory skills by connecting to-be-learned information to what the learner already knows. One common memory aide is HOMES, which is an acronym for the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. This strategy is flexible; it can be used with virtually any type of rote memorization. Once students are shown how to use this technique, they come up with all kinds of catchy acronyms to make retention easier.

  2. Let your child hold the cards

    If your child has flashcards that he needs to study, let him hold the cards and quiz you. Studies show that merely allowing the student to hold the cards and take on the role of the teacher increases time on task and retention of information.

  3. Draw a picture

    Another easy way for a student to increase memory when using flashcards is to add a picture. By simply drawing a picture next to the to-be-learned term, the student is creating a mental image in his mind’s eye, which triggers the definition. For example, if the vocabulary word is “docile”, his drawing might be of his dog, who is good natured and easy to train.

  4. Try out a 3×5 card

    Encourage the use of a 3×5 card so that your child can quiz himself and review independently. When your child has a study guide or an old quiz from which to study, he should read the question, cover the answer with a 3×5 card, and try to recite the correct response. If he gets it right, he checks it off and goes to the next one. If it’s wrong, he practices a few more times until the information is down pat.

And Most Importantly…

  1. Plan ahead

    Breaking down study time over a few days is far better and a lot less stressful than studying the night before. When your child has an upcoming test, help him break the study time into increments. Have him write these simple tasks in his planner or on your family calendar. For example, if there’s a science test on Friday, he may jot down “practice flashcards” on Wednesday and “review study guide” on Thursday.

By teaching valuable study skills now, your child will be able to reap the benefits of better grades, a deeper understanding of the material, and increased confidence.

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.