Ace That Test

ace that testI can’t imagine having to participate in the STAAR testing when I was in school. I was not a good test-taker. I struggled during my Freshman, Sophomore and Junior years because I had no clue how to study and I definitely was NOT organized. Homework was such a huge chore for me and kept me up until midnight just to get it done, and there was always a ton of reading to do!  Not only am I a very slow reader, I also have trouble retaining what I read. It’s not that I can’t read well it’s just that I am slightly ADD and every time I read I am totally distracted by everything going on around me. Heck, I am even distracted by myself!  Can you relate?  Even today in my fifties I need complete silence while reading, with maybe just a little bit of white noise like the A/C or a fan to distract me from the ringing in my ears. Because I’m an auditory learner I find that reading aloud helps me retain better.

Here’s how it typically goes…

I start to read a page of text and then I get distracted by the lawn mower outside my window or my kids in the next room and forget what I just read. Or, another scenario is that I would start to read something that reminded me of something else and my mind starts to wander only to find I’d reached the end of the page and couldn’t even remember what I just read. So I had to start that page all over again…Ugh! See? I’m even distracted by my own brain going off in different directions while I’m still reading. Please tell me I’m not alone in this! This is why I sucked at test-taking because there was usually a time limit…especially the reading portions. This was completely frustrating for me as a student and still as an adult reader. I recently discovered my daughter is struggling with distracted reading as well.  I told her about my experience as a student and advised her to try the experiment that saved me in high school.

Here’s what changed…

During my senior year I decided I really needed to do hunker down and do something to get my test scores up. So I gave up boys and prom and vowed to focus on getting my grades back up. I read somewhere that studying just before sleep was helpful with retention. But I also discovered that I often read out loud without even realizing it, so I did some research and found that I must be an auditory learner because reading out loud helped me to focus more on what I was reading and retain more by hearing it out loud as well. So I tried an experiment on myself. I got out my cassette recorder and I read my study text out loud into the recorder. A cassette recorder was all that was available back in the eighties but today students can use GarageBand on their Mac or a voice recorder or dictation app on their smart phone. Here’s a link to many apps available for those devices. Once the reading was recorded, I went back through the text reading it again from the page and playing the recording at the same time. It was as if someone was lecturing to me out loud while I was following along with the written text. Then just before I turned out my light to go to sleep I played the recording. Sometimes I would even put headphones on while I went to sleep listening to the recording over and over again. This was a brilliant discovery for me because the next morning I aced the test. Ever since then, whenever I know I’m going to be taking a test, I always study this way. If I have a script to learn for a video I do the same thing.

Sleep on it…

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re an auditory learner or a visual learner, here’s why this technique works so well for any learning style. A research study from the University of Notre Dame showed that going to sleep shortly after learning new material is most beneficial for recall. Click here for the full article. You see, inside your brain there are pathways called dendrites that contain information. Each time we learn something new a dendrite is created. If you learn something that you can relate to or something related to something you already know then the two dendrites are connected. This is why speakers and trainers like me like to use story-telling or analogies that our audience can relate to.  The more we practice (or hear) that new thing, whatever it is, the dendrites are surrounded or encased in a fatty tissue (think file cabinet) that gives us the ability to retrieve that information quicker. The fatty tissue protecting the dendrites works like a barrier to protect the data retained so you don’t lose it. New dendrites are formed and connected best while we sleep.

So the next time you or your student is preparing for a test (or even a script) give this experiment a try. Moms, this is also a great experiment to do with your little ones when you are teaching them something new. Don’t mess with the recorder but teach them that “thing” just before nap time or bed time. Lynda Morley’s Outings & Adventures books talks about the whole dendrite thing while teaching your children something new.

Posted in Daily Life.

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