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Q: My 12-year-old is struggling with seventh grade. Her homework grades are good, in the 80-90%, but her test grades are in the 60-70% range. We've talked to her teachers, counselor, and the school psychologist. They feel my daughter has "test anxiety". She's very frustrated and doesn't want to go to school. She calls me from school to say she's sick on test and quiz days. What should we do?
A: Is this new behavior for her? Certainly the content demands increase tremendously in seventh grade. There's a lot more new material to learn and remember and that is often enough to make even the strongest adolescent uneasy. Since her grades are so strong, it doesn't sound like she's having trouble meeting the day-to-day demands of her courses. Here are some steps that might make test taking easier:
- Ask the teacher if a study guide could be made available about what she judges is most important to review for the test and what the scoring criteria will be. Find out what kind of questions will be on the test (multiple choice, fill-in-the-blanks, and/or essays). You study differently for different kinds of tests.
- Start studying well in advance of the test. Make up a study schedule for reviewing material and stick to it.
- Read the class notes and review past reading each night. Pay particular attention to highlighted vocabulary, chapter and section headings, and questions at the end of each chapter. Make notes of or highlight the study material that is to be remembered
- Turn important information into questions and have someone quiz her to see how well the information is learned. Focus extra time on material that is not solidly remembered and/or understood.
- Look over previous tests the teacher has given to get some idea of the types of questions that may be asked next time.
- Brainstorm about possible essay questions and practice writing them out in advance.
If it is truly test anxiety, you might want to ask if your daughter qualifies for test modifications under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. There should be a 504 coordinator at your school or in your school district who could give you some guidance about this. If she qualifies, your daughter could have extended time on tests and/or breaks between sections. You can also request that exams be administered in a separate location. That alone relieves the pressure for many students.
Talk to your school guidance counselor to see if support can be given to your daughter at school or if she can recommend someone to help her on the outside. Visualization and relaxation exercises can lift some of the tension before a test.
There's wonderful software that the school might be interested in purchasing for test preparation. You can get information about Brain Cogs: The Test Taking Survival Kit by calling their toll-free number 1-888-240-3734 or have a look at their website at www.fablevision.com/shoppe.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.