I'm back after a week off from blogging. Last week was mostly spent getting ready for Parent-Teacher Conference, which meant getting tests graded before then. Approximately two hundred of them. Afterwards, I decided some basic test-taking advice was in order. Nothing beats preparation and true understanding, but in the spirit of "something is better than nothing," these tips could certainly inch scores up a few percentage points.
Read the Instructions
I think teachers have been trying to get all students to do this since written language was invented. Yet some students persist in ignoring them. Thus perfectly capable people lose points because they only gave half of what the problem was looking for.
Use Common Sense
Even if you don't remember how to do a particular problem, you can at least apply common sense and avoid some obviously wrong tactics. If a problem asks for a distance, don't give me coordinates for a point. If it asks for an angle, don't tell me a line. If you're supposed to justify steps for solving an algebra equation, don't use geometry postulates and definitions.
Give Me Something ... Anything
It's true that if you write random numbers and such for every question, you're not going to get any credit for it. But by and large, students who at least attempted something got at least a point for showing a tiny bit of understanding. And that's more than a student who left pretty much everything blank will get. (A student who thought he didn't know anything but tried anyway actually did about as well as the class average.)
Take Advantage of Advantages
It continues to boggle my mind that I can give a review with problems mirroring what's on the test and make the test open-note, yet some students still do miserably. But I know at least part of it. They didn't bring their notes, or they didn't take notes in the first place. So they're automatically at a disadvantage.
The Last Minute is Too Late
I had a student who was frustrated when she got her test back. "I thought I did so well! I even studied!" Her version of studying was coming in after school the day before the test and saying, "Teach me everything." As in, the whole chapter we'd been studying for the past 3-4 weeks. I did a quick overview of each section, but there was no way she was going to meaningfully absorb it all in a single afternoon. Still, she probably did better than she would've if she hadn't come in at all.
Hopefully I can get some of these messages through before the next test.