Why does my child do poorly on tests?

My daughter is in the third grade. She is smart and studies well. However, I am confused as to why she makes so many mistakes on her quizzes at school. She isn't doing very well because of these tests. I want to help her. Is this a concentration problem?


Many children who take the time to study for tests do not do as well as they hoped. This can be due to a number of problems, but the most common are:

  1. The student uses an ineffective way of studying
  2. The student experiences test anxiety which prevents clear thinking
  3. The student has only a superficial knowledge of the subject.

Let's look at each of these separately.

How do I study? Louanne Johnson, author of "School is Not a Four Letter Word," tells about the time when half of her bright students failed a test. She said, "I want the truth. How many of you honestly studied for more than fifteen minutes for this test? Nearly every student raised his or her hand. As it turned out, the kids had no idea how to study. Most "studied" by simply staring at the information they would be tested on.

Children need to be taught good study techniques. Ask your child's teacher to suggest specific techniques for studying the material that will be on the quiz (a student studies for a spelling test differently than she does a test on a chapter of a book). Or you can pick up a book on study skills at your local library or bookstore.

I can't think clearly! Many children (and adults for that matter) experience test anxiety. This often causes the student to "forget" information they knew. Help your daughter to realize that if she's feeling nervous, her anxiety may be getting in the way of her doing well. Then offer these suggestions:

  • Begin the test by relaxing your body. Close your eyes and breathe in and out deeply. (Don't worry about kids watching -- they'll be too busy reading the quiz.) Let every part of your body go limp for a moment.
  • If you are about to take a spelling test, remind yourself that you have studied to the best of your ability. Say the word to yourself. Then close your eyes and picture the entire word before trying to write it.
  • If you have a quiz in front of you, skim the entire test. Then begin by answering the questions that you know well and can answer easily. Don't worry if you have to skip some questions for now.
  • Go back and answer the questions that are more difficult. Tell yourself that you have answered some questions well, and if you relax you will remember more.
  • If you finish early, read over all of your answers and correct mistakes or add information if necessary.

I get it -- sort of. Many children think that they understand a subject, but their knowledge is based on familiarity and not a true understanding. The best way to help your child prepare for a quiz, is to talk about the subject she is studying. Ask questions. Have her tell you the answers in her own words. Encourage her to extend her thinking. If she can't answer your questions, help her to find the information. Even if the information you discuss isn't on the test, she will have gained a deeper grasp of the subject and a good dose of confidence.

In addition, talk to your child's teacher about your daughter's test performance and what you can do to help. It's wonderful that you are looking for a way to be proactive now. Your awareness and guidance will support your daughter for years to come.

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