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Math Test-Taking Strategies to Boost Confidence

Math anxiety can easily undermine the hard work your child has invested throughout the year, lowering their scores on standardized tests and jeopardizing their chances to take advanced classes or enroll in the schools of their choice.  Studies have shown math anxiety impacts up to half of all students in various ways. However, with the proper approach, it can be effectively addressed and met with an “I can do it!” attitude.

How can you help your child reduce their math anxiety? By reviewing the mistakes they make on homework assignments and practice exams, and helping them to group these errors into three easy to remember categories – the “three C’s:”

  • Concept - understanding the methods needed to resolve specific problem types
  • Comprehension - determining exactly what individual problems are asking you to do
  • Calculation - solving the problem correctly without making errors or overlooking any critical details

Challenging test questions can cause some young people to become gripped with math anxiety. Often, the cause lies in difficulties with one or more of the three C’s. When we help them to identify where their weaknesses lie, we can help them move from anxiety to perform at the level of their true potential.

As a first step, sit down with your child and look at the types of errors made in homework assignments, regular tests and practice exams. It’s a process that can be helpful anytime during the academic year, especially when students become anxious about math, and is particularly important when it’s time to start preparing for standardized tests.

To address Concept Challenges, ask your child to break questions into a series of meaningful parts, resolve these parts individually, and then put them back together. An example of this would be:

For “half of 5,280 = _________” think “half of 5000 (2,500) half of 200 (100), and half of 80 (40), so half of 5,280 = 2,500 + 100 + 40 = 2,640.

Children struggling with both Concept and Comprehension can be asked to read troublesome questions aloud.  This helps to strengthen the mechanics of understanding by invoking different parts of the brain. Another helpful approach is to ask students to reframe questions in their own words.

To help students overcome Calculation difficulties beyond rote practice, it’s crucial to make sure a child’s written work is neat and clear.  Neat penmanship makes a huge difference in child’s ability to think clearly and follow their own good reasoning.

Finally, as the day of the test approaches, children should also take some common-sense steps that can be applied to all types of tests, Larry Martinek, chief instructional officer at Mathnasium notes. “First, avoid last-minute cramming by learning to pace yourself and structuring a daily study plan.  Make sure to eat a healthy, high-protein breakfast the morning of the exam. Then, in the testing room, STOP and close your eyes. Take a moment to inhale deeply. When you exhale, open your eyes and envision the test with an ‘I can do’ mindset.”

Article by: Larry Martinek, Chief Instructional Officer, Mathnasium