My daughter's first fourth-grade social studies test was a tough lesson in study skills -- for both of us. Sophie is a good student, so I let her prepare for what we thought would be a simple exam on her own. When she got the test back, though, she and I were devastated by her less-than-passing grade. I asked Sophie how she had studied. "Like everyone did, I think. I read the chapter again," she said. That was it? She hadn't asked a friend to quiz her? Written down key vocabulary words? She responded with The Blank Look.
Major "aha!" mom moment: Teachers often don't coach kids on how to study for tests. "I may show my students how to make flash cards or use visual tricks to remember facts, but I have to focus my time on teaching the actual subject matter," says 2008 National Teacher of the Year Michael Geisen, a science teacher in Prineville, OR. Don't worry: You don't have to become your child's constant study buddy (who has time for that?). But you can keep your own cheat sheet of study techniques to share with her. Try out a few of these tips before your child's next exam and she'll soon have A-level test-prep skills.
Talk it out. Have your child review the major math concepts he's studying and either say them aloud or write on index cards the general gist of each topic. For example: "Factors are two numbers you multiply together to get another number: 2 x 3 = 6, so 2 and 3 are factors of 6."
Work it out. "Do actual problems on paper or a dry-erase board," says John Bass, a dad of two daughters and an elementary school teacher in Lake Oswego, OR. Have your child use problems from his textbook or go online to the publisher's "extra resources" site. Other online practice sites to try: Coolmath.com, Funbrain.com, and Mathcats.com.
Add color. When he's doing long division or other problems that require multiple steps, have your child complete each line or section in a different-color pencil.
Play "beat the buzzer." Julie Murray of Cary, NC, prints out the same number of problems that will be on her son Jayden's timed test (search online for "free printable math worksheets"). Then the 9-year-old has five chances to "beat" a timer set for five minutes. If your child gets frustrated about his progress, remind him that it's just a game and he'll become faster and better the more he does it.
Draw it out. Encourage your child to draw simple pictures (such as a rectangle with the length of each side marked for figuring out area or perimeter) -- while studying and on scratch paper during a test -- particularly for story problems involving shapes, sizes, distances, or lengths.