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Teaching Students To Cope With State/National Testing Programs In Mathematics

Throughout the education world, students are subjected to testing programs at the end of their school years that decide whether or not they gain university entry. In some jurisdictions, these tests are marked using a criteria based system. Often they test what are called ‘core skills’ as opposed to the content, basic skills and problem solving inherent in the traditional school assessment program. (Often, the depth of material is based on the standard expected of students a couple of years below the graduating class).

Students often find the different approach to assessment in these ‘tests’ difficult to adjust to. Consequently, schools give students practice in answering questions tested using criteria.

What appears below is the advice I would give my senior classes leading up to the practice tests and the ‘real thing’. Even though it is Maths in theme most of the advice expressed here would help students in all subjects tested in these sorts of state/national testing programs.

These are the ideas that I stress to my students:

  • Everything you need to solve the problem is there in the question or associated material.
  • Simple ideas are often the starting point. Don’t overlook the simple. Look for the obvious, first.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Work backwards. (Think about how you solved geometry problems by looking at what you had to prove last).
  • Underline the key words that tell you the ‘core skill’ being tested, e.g. calculate, evaluate…
  • Treat all questions as if they were easy.
  • Don’t stop at a difficult question in a unit and go on to the next unit. Remember each question tests a new core skill that may not be related to the previous question.
  • Use the tables and diagrams provided to help you. Draw new ones if that helps.
  • Try every question.
  • Make sure your answer is realistic. Remember Maths is practical and, more often than not, life related.
  • Use your normal Maths checking process as you go. Do it step by step to save time.
  • Remember to do only what the question asks you to do – no more, no less and not what you would be expected to do in an ordinary Maths exam.
  • Remember, too, the Maths involved is only Year Ten standard so that should not prevent you attempting to answer the question.
  • Finally, even though the context of the question might not seem to be Mathematical, remember it is a test of the core skills associated with Mathematics.

After the practice test has been marked and returned, I would always review with my class how well they put the ideas expressed above into practice and how they could improve their use in the ‘real thing’.