Math Test Preparation = Mastery of Skills + Establishing Habits
(an article from Homeschool.com’s newest e-magazine)
Written by Beth Hempton
Test preparation is often overlooked when creating our lesson plans. We teach our children important skills and concepts, but sometimes we don’t prepare them for how they will be tested. Then, they’re suddenly in high school and we realize that they need to be prepared to take the PSAT. Ironically, test preparation is ideally made up of a series of habits that help our children learn and retain skills overall. The only difference is that with a test, they’re focusing on very specific material.
Developing the following habits will help your math students successfully navigate through the world of math testing:
- Mastery of Basic Skills – Algebra students who never memorized their multiplication facts often struggle. They may thoroughly understand algebraic concepts, but if they have to pause and calculate with every step, they waste valuable time and may lose track of the problem steps. This can cause test anxiety. Math problems build on all previous mathematical knowledge, so it’s essential that students master the basics before moving forward with higher level concepts. If you have an upper level math student who doesn’t firmly grasp basic math skills, it’s wiser to go back and work on the basics than to move forward without them.
- Proficiency with a Calculator – Although students should know their facts without having to utilize technology, using a calculator can save tremendous time and provide greater accuracy. It’s amazing how many students don’t use a calculator prior to high school and taking the SAT. They walk into an important testing situation with a tool that they have not previously mastered.
- Develop a Practice Perspective – practicing math problems is similar to developing sports or music skills. Unfortunately, students often do math practice problems only to check off their homework assignment sheet. They don’t retain the concepts for future use. A practice perspective is one where students realize that understanding the concept is as important as coming up with the correct answer. Taking the time to practice will result in stronger skills. Parents should always grade student work to establish the value of practice problems. When students work without any feedback, they treat the work with less concern. If you don’t value their work, why should they? Imagine sending your child to soccer practice, but never attending a game. Not grading student work has the same negative effect.
- Establish a Memorization Method – pneumonic devices differ based on a person’s interest and learning style. Visual learners do well with flash cards, while auditory learners memorize facts and formulas best through songs or rhymes. Kinesthetic learners might need to learn the facts and concepts concretely. For many students, a combined technique, such as stating the math formulas aloud, followed by writing or typing them, and then highlighting them as they’re mastered works best. It’s wise to help your children discover the Memorization Method that works best for them early on.
- Consistent Work – cramming doesn’t work for math tests. If a student doesn’t practice problems and demonstrate mastery in skills, then giving a test is pointless. Consistency provides the best environment for developing strong math skills, even for students who aren’t natural mathematicians.
- Healthy habits – well rested students with healthy diets tend to test better. Their minds are clearer and able to focus on the task at hand. Maintaining regular schedules and avoiding excessive sugar and caffeine prior to test taking greatly benefits students. A student should also make sure to eat prior to a test to avoid being distracted by hunger pangs.
Math test preparation is less about short term studying and more about establishing consistent academic habits. In reality, if a math student works daily to memorize and retain concepts, practices problems and connects previously learned skills to present lessons, then he shouldn’t need to spend excessive time preparing for a test.
Beth Hempton, a Christian homeschool mom and writer, is also the owner of Classes by Beth. Her company provides live-feed, interactive online courses for students, grades 5 and up. As well, her CBB @ Home curriculum provides writing and literature lesson plans along with full support and evaluation services for students not quite ready for online classes. Check out the CBB website for more information.