With children being handed homework as early as preschool, it’s important to start thinking about study habits at a young age. Don’t wait for a bad test grade to take action. Here are some tips to support your child taking tests at any age.
Homework and studying should be a regular activity, so that preparing for a test is never a last-minute cram session. Test taking is a skill, which means it requires practice.
“You want your child to have a set study schedule that you revisit periodically to make sure it fits your life and your child’s life. Ideally your child spends time every night reviewing concepts learned in school, in addition to [doing] any homework,” says Anathea Simpkins, program manager for study skills and test prep at Sylvan Learning.
If study time is part of your child’s day, preparing for a test will simply be a regular activity. Make it clear that homework and review times are a priority. After-school activities are important, but so is homework and studying. Your child may want to head outside and play with friends, but he needs to make time for both.
“Children need to practice good study skills so they become second nature. Parents can help with reading books, articles, reviewing vocabulary or math facts—whatever they are learning at the time,” says Maxine Drazenovic, an ESOL teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland, who works with K-5 students.
Establish Healthy Study Habits
Children also need a quiet, organized space for studying. That can be a desk or even a spot at the dining-room table, which you can help set up by sharpening pencils and putting them in a cup or providing other supplies. Organization is essential, and it’s a skill that they will take with them as they grow.
While we cannot control how our children perform on a test, we do have a say in their bedtime and diet, which play a big part in their learning. “Being rested and having good eating habits are vital. Students need routines at home and school. Getting enough sleep and not feeling hungry will allow them to be able to focus on the test,” Drazenovic says.
You can make the night before a test a little more special—like you would the night before your child had a big sporting event. Ask your child what meal they want to eat, for example. It’s okay to talk about the test, but avoid focusing on it so much that you build anxiety. Test days are special, but not such a huge deal if your child is reviewing concepts on a regular basis. “The more they are ready but also relaxed when they walk into school, the better they’ll do,” says Lucia Sinovoi, director of academics for Kaplan Kids.
Communicate with the Teacher
If you are stuck on how to help your child study for a particular subject, don’t hesitate to contact the teacher. “Ask the teachers who work with your child what is the best way to help. They spend a great deal of time with each student and will have ideas. The public library and the Internet will have resources as well,” Drazenovic says.
Your child’s teacher may recommend fun activities to reinforce concepts and lessons, such as flash cards, or other activities that make him feel confident about the subject at hand. You do not have to be a teacher or an expert to help your child study. Think of yourself as a supporter, not a tutor.
When you talk to the teacher, find out how she usually assesses student performance on tests. What content is the teacher going to cover? Is the test usually based on the textbook, handouts or lessons in class? How does she like to assess? Does she often give multiple-choice tests or are they essay-based?
Personalize Study Tactics
As you determine how the teacher assesses her students, keep in mind that your child has different strengths, even within test taking. “Some kids have a hard time with essay questions. Some have a hard time with multiple choice,” Simpkins says. Talk to the teacher to help recognize your child’s pitfalls, and review past tests to determine areas that need support.
Also keep in mind your child’s needs when scheduling study sessions. “If your child feels overwhelmed, set small bits of time, 10 minutes, and work up to longer periods of time,” Simpkins says. “Studying can be done different ways.”
Consider how your child learns information. Is she more visual or contextual? Work more fun into studying by approaching content in different ways, using note cards, flash cards, reciting notes, drawing pictures, or recording information on your handheld device and playing it back.
Just as you may have had difficulty in certain subjects, be realistic about your child’s abilities and what you can expect him to do in school. “Parents can’t expect their children to be stars in all subject areas. Every child is unique, with different strong areas. A parent’s job is to support their children and accept their imperfections. It is important to remember that your child is not you and may be very different,” Drazenovic says.
Focus on Confidence
Never underestimate the power of confidence, which is the ultimate goal above a good test score. You want your child to walk into school confident every day, Sinovoi says. Be the supportive voice, offering encouragment as they work on their homework and tests. Make yourself available to field questions. You can also instill confidence by giving them space and time to do their work, showing them that their study time is important and they have a say in it.
A big reason students experience test anxiety is fear of the unknown. But if you emphasize how well your child knows the concepts to be covered on the test, he should feel more ready.
Help, don’t hover. If you sense you are almost doing their homework for them, you probably are. Your child needs to be an independent student to succeed. “It’s important to help your child, support them, check in with them, and steer them in the right direction if they are going in the wrong, but,” Simpkins says, “make sure they get the concepts without doing the work for them.”
When in doubt about how to support your student, go to the source. “Sit and listen. Let your child teach you. That can make it a lot of fun,” Sinovoi says.
Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.