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Study and test-taking strategies for kids with learning difficulties

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Analyzing the format of homework and tests

Does your child have difficulty understanding and remembering the homework assignments, teacher expectations, and test questions? Children with learning and attention problems often misread questions, focus their attention on sections of the question rather than the entire question, have difficulty understanding nuances in the language, struggle to determine what's most important, and do not easily differentiate between similar answers. If this description matches your child, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Ask the teacher for sample questions and examples of high quality sample responses, and review them with your child.
  • Make your child aware of specific key words that clarify the meaning of the question (for essays and short answers) and help to eliminate some of the answer choices (on multiple choice questions). One way to remember these keywords is to use an acronym such as RED CRaNES which was shown earlier. In addition to memorizing the acronym, it is important to insure that your child knows the meanings of each of these words and is able to apply this knowledge to succeed on tests.
  • Encourage your child to practice multiple-choice questions if teachers use this format on tests. On multiple-choice tests, the vocabulary, and the visual layout of the answer sheet can confuse children. For example, children with visual-spatial or fine motor difficulties may have difficulty filling in scantron forms rapidly and accurately or copying answers onto a separate answer sheet. If your child struggles with the layout of the test or answer sheet, talk to the teacher and advocate for a different format or permission to answer directly on the test.
  • Remind him that multiple-choice questions often have a correct answer, an answer that is obviously wrong and then one or two choices that are close to the right answer. He will need to read each choice carefully and try to eliminate as many of the answers as possible before choosing one. Encourage your child to stick with his first answer unless he knows that he made a careless error.
  • For matching questions, suggest to your child that he read all of the choices, match the items that he is certain of, cross off the choices that he has used and then proceed with the remaining items. Some children have difficulty with the visual aspect of the task - looking at two lists and keeping track of those answers that have already been chosen. Others may have trouble remembering the specific vocabulary or connections between items.
  • On short-answer questions, encourage your child to plan essay questions ahead using maps or three-column organizers. You can help your child review study guides, practice tests, text books, and class notes for the teacher "signals" discussed earlier so that he can predict likely essay or short-answer questions. This will enable your child to map out key points and arguments ahead of time. Even if the actual questions he prepares are not on the test, the work he does will give practice in thinking through questions and formulating answers.
  • Remind your child not to get stuck on any one item. Teach him to move on to the next question if he doesn't know the answer. The answer will probably pop into his mind later in the test.
  • Because anxiety can adversely affect memory and attention to detail, encourage your child to check his work for careless mistakes as much as possible. A personalized checklist of the most common kinds of errors that your child makes (based on previous tests) can be helpful for prioritizing which problems or questions to recheck before handing in the test.

Putting it in perspective

Sometimes anxiety can impede a student's performance on tests even when he prepares well. If your child panics or become anxious when studying for tests, here are some strategies you can try:

  • Encourage your child to focus on his strengths. "Remember, you have a really good memory and can recite all of the important facts."
  • Help your child put the test in perspective. "Remember this is just one test — you've done so well on the papers and projects, it won't matter if you make some mistakes."
  • Emphasize the importance of your child's effort and the strategies used. "You studied really well, and can be proud of that… It will really pay off on the test," or in terms of the rest of his life…. "No one's going to care what you get on this test — a year from now, 20 years from now…."

As adults, we know test performance is only one small way of measuring understanding and that learning is a complex, multifaceted process that needs to be measured in many different ways. We also know how important it is ensure our children have positive and successful school experiences so that they have as many options as possible open as they advance into adulthood. We hope these suggestions will help you to support your child with learning and/or attention problems so he can develop successful study skills, and can achieve success in and out of the classroom.

Many of the examples provided in this article are from BrainCogs®, a CD-ROM that helps children learn study strategies in a self-directed way. Institute for Learning and Development and FableVision, 2002.

Research Institute for Learning & Development Colleagues

Comments from readers

"Good Afternoon, The information is very freshing and informative and will help facilitate my learning and understanding when working with students that have learning disabilities. Thank You, Donavin White "
"I have a Daughter who is now in 11th grade.I find this information very useful for my daughter. I really need some help, when she studies and go into a test she is very blank and can not remember what she had studied. I know i am late but its never too late becasue now i am worried about her when she will go in to colledge and i want her to do good. Is their classes or online course she can do to help her test skills. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to her she does not do well and my tests. "
"'I have a daughter who is in 11th grad, but i find this information very useful for my daughter. She really need some help, when she study and go into a test she is very blank and can not remember what she had studied. Her test taking strategies were always bad, but now she is in 11th grade and i am worried what will happen to her in colledge. I know I am late but it never too late. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to her, she do not do well and my tests. "
"Most students are unable to link knowledge and skills gained in schooling,in the actual classroom situation.And i acknowledge the valuable assistance of your program...thank you."
"needs improvement but great"
"i think this is a gerat resouce for childern teens and adults and etc for homeork exams and more"
"i thought this was good article because all people can work and do things .But some people have different ways of learning and work "
"it is effective but needs improvement"
"I found this to be a very resourceful site! Being a special ed teacher, I have many students who need these strategies. I have even suggested many of my parents to view this site. Thanks!"
"I have found this article to be very helpful and I plan to give it a try. Thanks!"
"I do not have a child, but I find this information very useful for myself. I really need some help, when I study and go into a test I am very blank and can not remember what I had studied. I am now in college doing my pre-requsite courses. Can you please give me your advice, when this happen to me I do not do well and my tests."
" great!i find it very useful ! do you have any sample test about study habits and learning attitudes of students that i could use/ reference to my thesis? tnx"
"Conserning multiple choice questions. The fact remains that a large number of student have problems trying to figure out the right answer. Where by most of it is by guess work. How do we help students to avoid these during exams, especially when dealing with students with learning disabilities?"
"This was great-however I am at the point where I need more specifics on how to retain memorized facts that seems to slip away the next morning after studying."
"this was very useful. thanks."