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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The 10K Race and Taking Tests: What can we learn from the runner?

 Test taking can be extremely stressful for students of any age. To alleviate this, I advise my students to prepare for tests as they would an athletic event.  The parallels are a good way to remember how to get the most out of your brain.

Racing and Tests

An athlete preparing for a 10K race in three months does a few things in advance. He creates and follows a training schedule, establishes a personal goal, and keeps the end target in mind. On the day of the race he is relatively clear on his expected performance. You will be hard pressed to find an athlete cramming in hours of running minutes before the race in hopes of getting a little extra out of his heart and lungs.  This would only hinder his performance. The same rules hold true for studying.  Good advice from professor David Jaffee (2012) on how to study for an exam is to NOT study for an exam. Instead you should “study for learning and understanding.” Research shows that despite what many think, cramming does not help you perform better, it does the opposite. Just like that runner planning for an important race, a student should employ a similar systematic approach in preparation for an important test.

Here are six simple steps to follow when preparing for a test. The same applies to taking multiple tests or exams (think like a triathlete):

1.     Be sure to know exactly what you need to learn.
Know what to expect and set goal
2.     Check your understanding or mastery of the sub topics. Do this frequently (daily or weekly)
Monitor progress
3.     Get clarification or explanation for information that is confusing.
Modify training plans as needed to meet goal
4.     Start studying well in advance. Focus on small objectives or topics to help you get the big picture
Set a consistent schedule and routine
5.     Make a confidence list of what you know, what you do not know and what you are unsure of, then address each.
Set short-term expectations for the event. This is part of a long-term goal (the next race)
6.     Visualize yourself taking the test and doing well.
See the event in your mind, build your confidence and convince yourself of doing well.

The day before your exam, it is crucial to physically and mentally prepare your body as you would the day before a race. Eat healthy and get a good night’s rest. On the day of the test, a moderate apprehension level is fine. It helps give you a performance edge. You should be relaxed and confident in your knowledge.

Oxygen and Blood

The brain needs oxygen to work efficiently. When people are nervous their breathing tends to be shallow and restricted. It is very important to breath slowly, deeply and calmly prior to and during the test. 
Runners do not prepare for the race by sitting in a chair, nor should the test taker. If you are a teacher, have your students move around a bit and do some light movement. If you are a student, take a brisk walk or do some light stretching and movement before the test. Get the blood moving!

Gum Chewing?

Yes, but only before a test, not during. Research conducted at St. Lawrence University by (Onyper, et. al, 2011) indicates that students who chewed gum prior to, but not during a test scored higher than students who did not. Why? Onyper (2011) posits that the chewing motion activates muscles, which increase the blood and oxygen flow. The increase blood flow carries sugars that activate areas of the brain used for memory recall. So let the kids chew and have a handy trash basket to discard the gum right before the test.


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