There is no single reason why a student under-performs on standardized tests. But if there’s a pattern of a student’s standardized test scores not living up to grades, SPEED is often the culprit.
If the classic fable of the tortoise and the hare were a metaphor for school, standardized tests might be the one occasion that the hare comes out ahead. Standardized tests favor quick thinkers — the kids who finish first with an A, even if they don’t get the highest score in the class. In contrast, students who work more slowly and deliberatively might be capable of answering the most challenging questions, but they run out of time to show it.
Speed Challenges Can Worsen Over Time
Unfortunately, the divide between fast and slow thinkers often widens (not shrinks) with age. While slower pacing can plague students as early as third grade, it often tortures them through the ACT or SAT (hint: all other things being equal, the SAT is often a better choice for deliberative thinkers) or even graduate school entrance exams. To make matters worse, growing fear of underachievement can breed excessive test anxiety which makes most students work even slower.
Caution! Don’t Confuse Speed with Other Challenges
Don’t blame speed if a student doesn’t know the content, gets distracted, or struggles to decide the “best” answer. However, if a student consistently can’t show his best work primarily on standardized tests, speed IS the likely culprit. Assuming standardized tests are not going away, the best thing to do is find the strategies that will optimize a student’s performance.
Top three ways to beat the speed demon:
1) Chunk the test. Have students finish a set number of questions, check their work, and then move to the next set. They might not finish the entire test, but at least they will show their full potential on the questions they finish. Be sure they save a few minutes at the end to fill-in any blanks if there’s no guessing penalty.
2) Practice the test format. Familiarity can breed confidence for all students, but for some students it does even more. Students with weaker visual-spatial skills can struggle with the mechanics of moving efficiently between test booklet and bubble sheet or the page scrolling of online tests. Both formats have visual-spatial demands that exceed the typical pencil-and-paper in-class test. While test practice won’t improve your student’s visual-spatial skills, it can help improve test performance. Be sure to use these tricks that lessen the strain on the eyes.
3) Watch the time. Some students need guidance on how to allocate their time. Give your students an average time per question (this might vary by student). Have them practice at this pace, ideally using a visual timer. If the test questions get progressively difficult, teach them to allocate less time on the earlier questions to leave more time for questions at the end. The time per question might improve with practice, but start your students with a comfortable pace that will optimize their overall score. Keep in mind, a student’s efficiency might vary by test topic so expect to adapt the approach for each sub-test.
Need more test taking tips for different types of learners? Check out our free test prep strategies here. Better yet, contact us so .We help students optimize their performance on a broad range of standardized assessments for 2nd grade and up.