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With testing season underway, many students from elementary on up through the college ranks already have experienced their first spelling test, pop quiz or exam.

If not, they will be soon along with standardized tests, mid-terms, finals and college entrance exams for some.

Parents and students can use these 10 test-taking tips to help establish healthy habits and test-taking skills for this school year and the many yet to come.

Get a good night sleep

Good sleep is important for growing kids, but when there is an added need for concentration, good thinking and analytical skills, making sure kids get the best sleep possible is essential, said Elaine Krizenesky, a Kimberly mom of two boys, ages 15 and 10.

Ensure eight to 10 hours of sleep the night before a test, Krizenesky said, because when kids are tired they lack a sharp attention to detail and can misread test directions, accidentally skip test questions or overlook key words like NOT, which all can result in simple mistakes.

Eat a good breakfast

“While I am not mom of the year when it comes to making breakfast for the kids, I do not let them out the door without being fueled on exam days,” she said.

Recognizing high-sugar foods only fuel the body for one to two hours and can cause a blood sugar dive and increase sleepiness at test time, she tries to get her kids up 15 minutes earlier for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and turkey or ham slice, Krizenesky said.

“If you can get them to eat a good breakfast including protein, it will stay with (them) and help sustain a longer energy level so they can think about the test rather than their stomach growling,” she said.

Prepare in advance, review and ask questions

To be better prepared to study when test time comes, be proactive and learn to take detailed, legible notes, highlight important text or information in hand-out materials and ask questions throughout the unit being taught, said environmental science teacher Ryan Marx of Appleton East High School.

“Don’t wait until the night before the test to study,” Ryan Marx said. “Give yourself time to (review) and understand your notes and seek help from the teacher if you are not sure about something.”

“Communication between student and teacher is key … as teachers would much rather have a student ask for help ahead of time than do poorly on the test,” said Kathy Marx, an English language arts teacher also at East and Ryan’s wife.

Use visual and verbal tools

For a visual repetitive tool that aids in test success, prepare flash cards with terms and questions to help with memorization and understanding of vocabulary words, difficult concepts or processes, Ryan said.

As an alternative to the student quizzing himself, he can get together with a group of friends or ask a parent or sibling to quiz him using the premade flashcards or other classroom study guides, Kathy said.

Alone or with others, students who verbalize their study material will find they hear themselves reciting the test information in their mind while taking the exam, Ryan said.

Create mental images

According to Dr. Jody Jedlicka, owner and director of LearningRx in Appleton, “Pictures are much easier to remember than words on a page, and memorizing pictures are much faster than trying to remember facts and figures from a textbook.”

As a result, encourage kids to create mental images to recall what they read or heard when studying, and the weirder the better because things that are unusual or unexpected are easiest to remember, Jedlicka said.

As an example, when learning Lansing is the capital of Michigan, “picture Michigan on the map with a lance poking it and something leaking out of it,” she said.

Prepare early for college testing

The best preparation students can take for college entrance exams is to prepare early and take a minimum of three years each of English, math, science and social studies in high school, said Katie Wacker, public relations specialist with ACT Inc.

“ACT research shows that graduates who took at least (this minimum) were more likely to meet the corresponding ACT college readiness benchmark than graduates who took less so take your schoolwork seriously,” Wacker said.

To further prepare for college entrance exams, she suggested students do some practice tests to get a feel for the types of questions and pacing. Sample questions and answers are available for free online at

On timed exams, don’t spend 10 minutes on a difficult question only to have time run out, leaving easy questions unanswered, Wacker said.

It is always best to answer the easy questions first, then go back and answer the more difficult ones, if time remains, she said.

“By going back to the items skipped, students may come up with the answer or can work at eliminating as many incorrect choices as possible, increasing guessing accuracy. There is no penalty for guessing,” Wacker said.

Change negative thoughts to positive

“(Kids) often will come into a test thinking ‘I can’t do this,’ and ‘I am not going to pass’ and as a result, they become overcome with anxiety,” said Allison Edwards, Tennessee author, licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist.

Changing the channel of negative thoughts to positive is a tool to alleviate that anxiety, which is also outlined in her upcoming book “Why Smart Kids Worry: And What Parents Can Do to Help,” Edwards said.

“Parents can teach kids a positive thought or statement to repeat over and over, even starting a couple days before test time if they are really anxious,” she said.

Statements kids might say include “I can do this,” “I know the information,” “I’ve studied very hard,” “I am prepared.”

“If parents can teach their kids to change the way they think, they can get a better (test) outcome with much less anxiety,” she said.

Calm the body

Another tip, also noted in her book, is called square breathing, which is a technique that helps kids calm down while in an anxious moment, but it’s something that needs to be practiced well before the exam so it becomes second nature in a test, she said.

It is a four-step breathing technique where kids breathe in through their nose for four slow counts, then hold their breath for four counts, then breathe out through the mouth for four slow counts and rest for four counts, Edwards said.

This works better than simply taking a deep breath and blowing it out because when kids count, it takes their mind off the tense moment, she said.

Get tested and resolve chronic problems

One of the best things parents can do if their children continually struggle with taking tests is get them tested to find out why it is happening, Jedlicka said.

“The biggest benefit to having your skills tested is that once weaknesses are identified, there is something that can be done to change these weaknesses.

“Your brain has the remarkable ability to change and grow in response to experience … and it can be trained to eliminate the cause of the struggle, enhancing abilities and test-taking success,” she said.

— Jill Harp:


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