Sunday, November 25, 2012

Test Taking Tips, Anxiety-Busters Strategies and Motivating Quotes

For most of us test taking is an integral part of our lives (in and out of school).  Most of us also realize that text taking is a coveted talent that inevitably carries varied amounts of anxiety.

  • Attention to details - to understand the nuances of the question as well as provide the necessary content, depth and details in the response.  IF the exam is an essay, it also involves attention to the writing process making sure spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct.  IF the exam involves math, the student must also attend to the written work, making sure numbers were copied correctly, and computations were completed accurately.
  • Memory - making sure ALL the required materials were recalled and presented accurately, and that everything the questions required were addressed.
  • Language - students must be able to read and comprehend exactly what the questions are asking, and then be able to recognize the 'best' answer from a multiple choice array, OR relate the necessary material in a comprehensive and comprehensible manner.
  • Sequencing - students must often recall ORDERS of events (be they historical, fictional, numerical, etc.) and must be able to relate them in the correct sequence and comprehensive manner.
  • Grapho-motor skills - are also involved as students must have the physical control and stamina to write responses for each question in the proper test location and in a 'readable' answer.
  • Cognition/Comprehension - aside from simply understanding the question, students must recognize and follow patterns, construct main ideas, compare and contrast information from memory, compare and contrast what is necessary from what is not, compare and contrast choices as to how to respond.  Students must also analyze questions and options, they must brainstorm how to respond as well as brainstorm what is the 'best' response. In essay exams students must often analyze, explain, relate, criticize, and evaluate content information, ALL of which requires higher order cognitive skills.
And we wonder why test-takers get anxious?

This post hopes to relieve test-taking anxiety while improving test-taking and study skills.

"A hundred cartloads of anxiety will not pay an ounce of debt" ---Italian Proverb.

While it's often ineffective to tell someone not to be anxious when they are,  ANXIETY will not only not pay an ounce of debt, it won't help improve test scores either.  In fact, if you're like me it will actually hurt test taking.

So aside from boning up on relaxation techniques and/or yoga, the remainder of this post helps parents, teachers and students PREPARE for tests, how to TAKE tests, and GAIN PERSPECTIVE to bust anxiety to a manageable inconvenience.  [Feel free to add your own strategies in the comments.]

  • Begin studying as soon as you know of the test.  Schedule your time with breaks.  The more time you have to prepare, the more opportunities review, the less pressure on time management and (hopefully) the stronger your memory links.
  • Make outlines, review sheets, flash cards, "cram sheets" to review and establish multi-sensory memory paths and 'recall routes'. 
  • Here is a great note-taking/summarizing technique:
  • From:
    • Break your page into three sections: First, fold the paper in half vertically so you have a right side and a left side.  Leave space on the top of the paper (for a title describing the page's contents), and space across the bottom (to write a brief summary).
    • On the top section across the page - label or title the contents (summarize)
    • On the right side, write your notes in bullets
    • On the left side, under each bullet of notes, leave a key word or include some visual icon or image to represent its content
    • On the bottom of the page write a summary
  • Prepare review sheets, writing key points and ideas on one side of the paper (in outline or concept map format) showing relationships between key points. Use the other side of the paper for definitions, examples, formulas, etc.
  • Review your notes, and you may want to review others' notes as well.  Older kids may want to form study groups and parents (for kids in newly established groups) may want to monitor making sure the group actually studies.
  • Take breaks.  Get up and walk around.  You may want to walk around while reciting - the kinesthetic aspect has been found to help with memory retrieval. Sometimes creating songs or chants also helps memorization.

  • Eat a light meal before the test (food is necessary for energy but heavy foods can make you groggy).
  • Sleep before a test - 8 hours of sleep is recommended.
  • As soon as you receive your test...mind dump: ask for/use a scrap piece of paper to jot down any memorized information you think you might forget.
  • Quickly scan the test, thinking of how best to budget your time, making sure you allow time to  read the directions and questions carefully.
  • Read the entire question carefully. Don't assume you know what it is asking until you have completely read it.
  • IF you are concerned about time, answer the questions you know you can answer first and mark the more challenging questions to return to later.
  • Focus on your test, don't bother looking to see how others are responding - it will distract you, it will take time away from your work and it will not help you.
  • IF you don't understand a question, ask the teacher to clarify it (if appropriate). You may also want to write a note in the margin explaining your response.
  • Circle key words in difficult questions. This may help you focus on the main point.

For ESSAY QUESTIONS  the objective is to demonstrate that you know the topic, can explain it, AND can support your explanation using vocabulary and technical jargon used in class and readings.  When taking the test:
  • Start your essay with a clear opening sentence that DIRECTLY responds to the question prompt.
  • Make sure you understand the questions:
  • From:
    • Compare questions usually want students to focus on SIMILARITIES as well as DIFFERENCES.
    • Contrast questions ask students to focus on differences between related items, qualities, events or problems.
    • Criticize questions usually call for YOUR JUDGEMENT with respect to merits or factors of given ideas, statements, or events.
    • Define questions require concise, clear meanings presented in an authoritative manner.
    • Discuss questions ask students to ANALYZE carefully and present considerations (pros and cons) of targeted subjects. This requires a complete and detailed response.
    • Evaluate questions require a careful look at an idea/event and responses should stress ADVANTAGES and LIMITATIONS. Responses should be written in an authoritative tone with some personal comments.
    • Explain questions usually ask students to CLARIFY and INTERPRET the material. Here, students should address the "how's" and "why's" of a given event/situation, often consolidating and/or reconciling differences of opinions.
    • Illustrate questions require students to translate, clarify, diagram a given topic/situation with CONCRETE examples to support their positions.
    • Relate questions ask students to SHOW RELATIONSHIPS, emphasizing connections and associations, usually in descriptive form.
    • Review questions typically require students to CRITICALLY EXAMINE a topic.  Students should analyze and comment briefly about the topic in an organized, sequential manner which addresses the major points of an issue/problem/event.
    • Summarize questions typically ask students to concisely relate the main points, ideas or facts of an issue. 
For MULTIPLE CHOICE (and True/False) questions:
    • Read the question a few times to make sure you understand what it is asking.
    • Underline key terms and clue words.
    •  If you run into vague terminology, define it in your own terms and then look for the best alternative answer.
    • After reading the question, come up with your 'most likely' response BUT read ALL the response choices before selecting your 'best choice'.

    • BE PREPARED - studying and self-testing can help. Toward this end, set up realistic study goals. Goals should be :
      • specific (reading or writing "x" amount of work or reading/writing for "x" amount of time a sitting)
      • measurable (for example set aside a specific amount of time or a concrete goal or number of pages to read, etc.)
      • challenging but attainable
    • Evaluate your success with goal setting and adjust future goals when necessary.
    • THINK POSITIVELY and IF you find you're worrying too much, try to consciously change gears.
    • Break studying into chunks.  Make a study schedule that includes breaks which will distract you from your tension and anxiety while empowering you to better incorporate what you've studied.  
    • Anxiety feeds on itself.  IF you tend to freeze, you may want to talk to a teacher and see if there are alternatives WHILE you address the anxiety.
    • No one I've known - even very gifted students - 'ace' every test.  Realize this. Also realize that there are often several ways to achieve your goal, and often circuitous routes are more enriching.
    • Think about tests you may not have done well on.  Was there a pattern or type of question that you had/have difficulty with?  If so try to address these issues.  You may find you need to:
      • Slow down and read the directions more carefully
      • Slow down (especially math or physics) making sure you don't copy an equation wrong or misread a number, or simply make careless calculation errors.
      • If there is extra time - go over your work before handing in the test. 
      • Congratulate yourself on completing what you have done - focus on the good and easy and not on the overwhelming.
    • Use relaxation techniques while studying and before exams.  


    Finally, some INSPIRATIONAL / MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES to help you relax and gain perspective, or simply laugh.  [Please feel free to leave your own in the comments.]

     "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot...and I missed. I have failied over and over and over again in my life. And that's precisely why I succeed" ----Michael Jordan, NBA Allstar
    "I'm not telling you it is going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it"---Art Williams, Professional basketball player
    "Neither you nor the world knows what you can do until you have tried." ---Ralph Waldo Emerson
    "So many times people end up fixated on doing things right, that they end up doing nothing at all." ---The Wright Brothers
    "When I was young I observed that nie out of ten things I did were failures, soI did ten times ore work." ---George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright
    "Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start form now and make a brand new ending." --- Carl Bard, Scottish theologian religious writer broadcaster
    "Try not. Do or do not; there is no try." ---Yoda, Jedi Master, Star Wars
    In closing, here is a YouTube clip from
    As always, thank you for your visit.  Please leave your own test-taking advice, motivational anecdotes of funny test-taking experiences in the comments.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Slam, Shakespeare and Homer...Was The Iliad the First Slam Poem? [Great teaching points and background]

    Slam Poetry are poems meant to be spoken and performed aloud for a live audience, often (but not exclusively) in a competitive environment.  It is a verbal-visual-vocal retelling involving words, facial expressions, movement, voice volume adjustments and visual body cues.

    One of my favorite slam poets is Taylor Mali (which I've posted previously. Here are some of my favorites: (What Teachers Make, Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh-Grade Viking Warrior, and Totally Like Whatever, You Know?

    But here is another SLAM I found by teen slammer Kate Tempest and Shakespeare's influence on her, her culture, our lives, our culture - this is a poem that should be shown before anyone teaches the Bards' works (and there's another Kate poem later to savor as well):

    SLAM is new, vibrant and 'of this generation' yet...many say Homer's Iliad (the cornerstone of Western literature and one of the best classic stories ever - over the 27 centuries it's been performed) is the epitome of slam:

    Slam's origins are generally credited to Marc Smith, a construction worker / poet, who in 1984/5 started a poetry reading series in a Chicago jazz club where the emphasis was on performance. In 1986 Smith approached Dave Jemilo, owner of the Green Mill (another Chicago jazz club - noted as a former haunt of Al Capone) where they host a weekly poetry cabaret.

    Thus "SLAM" was born. It is now an international phenomenon in clubs as well as in schools. Inner city urban schools in particular are incorporating SLAM into their curricula to motivate and reinforce kids' literacy skills.

    It is ironically fitting that "Poets and Profs: Looking at the Iliad” and Iliad Out Loud" is now coming out of The University of Chicago.  The article, written by Lydialyle Gibson in the Chicago Magazine (Sept/Oct/2012), relates the work done by Mark Eleveld and Ron Maruszak in a joint Master's thesis (that resulted in a documentary) positing how Homer's ancient epic The Iliad presaged slam.
    According to Lydialyle Gibson, Mark Eleveld and Ron Maruszak realized that:
    Homer, the blind bard, ancient Greece’s greatest poet, whose epics on the Trojan War and its aftermath founded the Western canon and influenced 3,000 years of literature, was, basically, a slam poet.
    What else to call a man—a showman and writer—who made his living turning poetry into entertainment, who traveled from town to town performing memorized verses before crowds of listeners? “ 
    The article discusses Eleveld and Maruszak's documentary, Poets and Profs: Looking at the Iliad”: which ivory tower luminaries like Robert Pinsky and Nicholas Rudall, Herman Sinaiko,  and James Redfield, share the screen with leading lights from the slam poetry world: Taylor Mali, Bob Holman, Regie Gibson, Marc Smith. West Point English professor Elizabeth Samet provides some of the film’s most stirring moments, discussing the Iliad’s lessons—literary, military, and moral—for future soldiers.
    Here is some background to their project:
    In 2005, Eleveld and Maruszak—high school English teachers... and cofounders of a small poetry press—read the Iliad... in classics scholar David Wray’s class ... untangling Homer’s allusions and etymologies, his rhythms and descriptive epithets: “swift-footed Achilles”; “Hector, breaker of horses”; “rosy-fingered dawn.” They also studied the Iliad’s oral tradition, and in Homer’s cadences, Maruszak and Eleveld kept hearing the words of slam poets they’d known for years.
    In 1991, as an undergraduate at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, Eleveld took a class from Marc Smith, of Chicago’s Green Mill nightclub.... “The misconception is that these guys get up there and read some crap off a napkin, or that they go off into these profanity tirades,” says Eleveld. “But that’s not it. That’s not the good stuff.”
    Eleveld and Maruszak's Poets and Profs combines performances from the Iliad with ruminations on the poem’s vast thematic terrain.
    Early in the film, Sinaiko rhapsodizes on Homer’s ability to construct “a whole epic about the shape of a single emotional experience”—Achilles’s rage—within a narrative that also encompasses war, death, love, loss, friendship, immortality, and “on and on and on.”  Homer, Sinaiko says, “managed to fold into the structure of the Iliad the whole of human life, focused around or as elements in this anger.”
    Eleveld and Maruszak ultimately hope to see Poets and Profs  used in classrooms. In the meantime, they’re considering plans for a sequel, about the Great Gatsby, or maybe the Grapes of Wrath. “Or,” says Eleveld, “the Odyssey, obviously.”

    Here (again) is  the trailer for Poets and Profs: Looking at the Iliad.  It is SO WORTH YOUR TIME - it's inspiring as we see students, academics and professional slammers relate Homer's genius, the power of performed poetry, the power and relevance of the Iliad today, and the horrors of war regardless of time or technology:

    I leave you with LINKS to  make slam poetry and Homer's Iliad a part of your home/classroom:
    I realize I talk about slam and give some links, but decided to give you a treat by teen slammer Kate Tempest.  Below are more slam /poetry links:

    First, "Teens' Speech"

     And if you want another treat:

    • Kate Tempest is a teen slam-poet - here are two POWERFUL links you may want to show, inspire and talk about with your kids.  You may want to talk about the way she uses her facial expresisons, rhythm, voice volume, pauses, and how she performs her poems - poems that she wrote and performs: Icarus, The Teen's Speech
    • PBS has a wonderful resource with lesson plans and "Using a Poetry Slam to Teach the Mechanics of Poetry" (Grades 9-12)
    • The Lesson Planet - a search engine for teachers has a great link, Poetry Slams and Lesson Plans
    Thank you for your visit.   Please leave your reactions, slam experiences and/or teaching suggestions in the comments and have a great Thanksgiving holiday.