I had a pretty brutal weekend grading papers all weekend long (and weekend nights), with the exception of a few glimmering moments here and there--our Derby Day celebration, a fun play-date at our house on Sunday with a new friend, some gardening with T. But most of the weekend was spent grading. I wore out a path from the kitchen table to the office because every five seconds I had to pop up, rush over to the computer, and run google searches to catch plagiarists in action.
I keep telling colleagues that instead of using the handouts and lesson plans I use every semester when I teach students how to cite sources, I will make my own student handbook. I'll call it: What Not To Do When Writing a College Paper. I would have bits of advice like, don't open your paper with an incoherent sentence like "reading this book helped me a lot on doing paper for class" and then use words like "reverberated" and "astute" in the following paragraph, unless of course you WANT to be caught for plagiarism. Also, using "u" in your paper instead of "you"? Definitely a no-no. Misspelling your own name on a cover page is pretty bad, and misspelling your teacher's name doesn't look so great, either. Also, ask.com is NOT a source you should use in a paper, and wikipedia or e-notes just won't cut it, either. With the technology that's out there today, there are just so many ways a student can get into trouble.
But I'm almost through the mountain of papers, and it's final exams week. In the coming weeks students at school all over the country will be hunched over papers, scribbling their hearts out on exams, and hoping it will all come together in the end; that they'll be able to sail off gloriously into the summer, the chains of work, and reading, and writing, and accountability behind them for a few weeks at least--I remember that feeling, and I live it again through my students. As I wrote last week L. too is taking tests this week--the EOGs, so we will all be living and breathing testing for a few days now.
Before final exams, I give my students the same advice on test-taking every semester. And L.'s school has been giving similar advice to the third graders taking the EOGs. There are some standard strategies for test-taking. Even if you don't always get all the answers right all of the time, there are things you can do to make the process less painful.
For college students: dress for success. It might be tempting to roll out of bed on exam day and come to class enshrouded in your favorite hooded sweatshirt, pajama pants, and fluffy slippers, but it you feel like you should be in bed, you will probably test like you should be in bed. Give yourself extra time to get up, shower, dress professionally, and you'll feel more capable.
Eat a good breakfast. Even if you have to munch it down on the way to the exam. If you are a parent, and getting your child to the table in time for cereal, fruit, and milk is impossible, make sure at least they have something nutritious to eat in the car. You can also pack a soy shake/drink in a portable juice box container, so at the very least they will have a "liquid" breakfast.
Visualize yourself completing the exam. This works for kids, too. If you can mentally go through the exam before you actually begin, then the test will seem less intimidating. If you are a parent, help your child "map out" the test the day before, or the morning of. If your child tests poorly, or has trouble processing the idea of a long (3 hour) test, help them map it out visually. Draw pictures of them reaching the end, complete with clocks showing the start and finish time. Helping them imagine the test as a race, or a trip they are familiar with, might help as well.
Pamper yourself, pamper your kids. If you're an older student, give yourself a little reward after you've taken an exam: a meal out, or an afternoon nap, or a small present to yourself. For your kids, give them little prizes to keep them going. Not only is L.'s school providing popsicles and other treats for every day the kids take the EOGs, but I'm planning on bringing a small treat to L. each day this week. Today it was a slice of pizza, and a can of fruit juice soda (sparkling drinks are usually only for special occasions around here!).
Don't dwell on failure or, if you're a parent, your child's shortcomings or challenges. It's hard to put a positive spin on failures, but if you do feel you didn't do well on the test, or if your child ends up having to retest, look at it as another chance to learn more, do better, and be proud of all that has been accomplished so far. A test is just a test in the end, not a defining moment in anyone's life.