At MEK Review, we often hear concerns from parents that go something like this: My child is receiving 90% or higher on homework but is getting low test scores.
This can be frustrating for students and parents alike who want to know why this is happening and how they can fix it.
Let’s start with why this happens in the first place.
1. Time Management
Most teachers assign homework with the idea that students will spend around 30 minutes completing the assignment. In reality, some students actually take several hours to complete an assignment.
Your child’s dedication in spending so much time on his or her homework might seem like a good thing (and it can be!), but it might explain why there’s a discrepancy between his or her high homework scores and low tests scores.
Almost all tests and quizzes are given in class under a certain time limit. So, students who do well on homework might not be able to repeat that performance when under time constraints.
2. Lack of Understanding
We just discussed the timed aspect of a quiz or test, but students who struggle with time management on a test rarely do so just because they are naturally slower test-takers. Usually, it is because they don’t really understand the concepts taught in the class to begin with. There is a reason they are spending hours on homework that the teacher most likely designed to take 30 to 40 minutes — lack of understanding.
So after hours of reviewing their notes, using their textbooks, and maybe even receiving outside help, their homework scores are fairly good, even as their test and quiz scores stagnate.
This often gives parents the false impression that their child actually understands the material and is just “bad at taking tests.” But often the low test scores correctly reflect the students’ abilities — they simply haven’t mastered the concepts.
This can be a sign that the student is behind in the class or finds it challenging.
3. Weak Reading Comprehension Skills
If your child is struggling in science and math, you might be tempted to skip this section. Don’t!
Reading comprehension is a skill that impacts every class, even math (think of all those word problems on standardized tests). Students who lack these skills are unable to differentiate between important and unimportant details; they have a hard time understanding the overarching message or main idea of a text; and frequently have a lower level of vocabulary.
When taking a test, students with weak reading comprehension skills are typically slower, less confident in what is being asked of them, and prone to careless errors.
4. Lack of Study Skills
One of the most under-taught skills in schools today is how to effectively study.
Students are taught concepts, facts, and even more challenging skills such as analyzing and synthesizing ideas. But few students are explicitly taught how to study. This especially hurts students when they take a more challenging class, in which there is either more breadth or depth when it comes to the material.
Do they break material down for themselves into manageable chunks? Should they utilize their homework, handouts, and in-class notes? How much time should they devote to studying? Students don’t know, and what’s worse is sometimes they don’t even know that they should know.
This is why students might be able to master individual homework assignments, but comprehensive tests that cover multiple concepts are a challenge. For more studying tips, read this blog to find out how to break bad study habits.
5. Lack of Test-Taking Skills
It’s true that sometimes parents mistakenly believe their child is a “poor test taker,” when really their child genuinely doesn’t understand the material. Sometimes however, this suspicion may be correct. Your student may not know the best way to tackle a test.
Some students struggle to maintain the intense focus often required of a test. Other students consistently make careless mistakes. Test-taking, like studying, is a skill, and it’s a skill often not taught in school (just like study habits).
1. Understand the Problem
You are already making great progress on this step simply by reading this!
You have now read several reasons why your child might be receiving low test scores. Now, it’s time to determine which of these reasons applies to your child.
Is it a time issue? Does he not really understand the content? Does she have no study plan?
Most likely the answer is yes to more than one of these questions. But to really know, you need to find out from your child. Just asking him or her what the problem is, though, might not be that effective. After all, students often don’t even realize themselves why they are struggling; they just know that they are.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How long do you spend on homework? Is that how long your teacher predicted it would take?
- Do you feel like you understand what is happening in class?
- Do you enjoy the class and feel motivated to do well in it?
- How do you study for tests? Do you have any strategies or methods that you use?
- What kind of questions do you miss on your tests?
It may also be helpful to ask the teacher for some insight as well. They often have the inside scoop on certain intangible aspects of your child’s performance. Does he raise his hand in class a lot? Does she seem engaged in the material? All of this would be helpful to ask and to know.
2. Build Strong Study Habits
This is one of the most important habits you can teach your child for his or her current and future studies.
Here are some of the basics:
Have your child list the materials covered in class, by topic.
These topics may take the form of different chapters of a book being read in English class or the different scientific concepts he or she is studying. If your child can’t even distinguish the different topics covered in class, then it’s time to reach out to the teacher directly.
Once they’ve listed all the different topics, it becomes much easier to divide those items into manageable studying chunks.
For instance, after meeting with his Language Arts teacher, one of our MEK Review students and his parents came up with the following list for grammar topics currently covered and to be covered in class:
- Subject Verb agreement – covered
- Verb tense – covered
- Semi-colons – covered
- Colons – covered
- Commas – upcoming
- Coordinating conjunctions – upcoming
- Subordinate conjunctions – upcoming
Once the material has been divided into more manageable chunks, plan a date and time that he or she should review each section. Make this schedule visible and concrete: Put it on the calendar hanging in her room. Post it on your refrigerator door. Schedule an alarm on his phone.
Be as specific as possible – you will study at this time, on this day, for this long. Make sure your child is part of this process and agrees to abide by the schedule. Talk to him or her about what times work best, and when he or she feels most focused and motivated. However, then make sure your child sticks to the agreed upon schedule.
Talk to your child about how they utilize homework and class materials. Most students think that completing their homework is a form of studying. It isn’t! They are completing an assignment. Even if they get a 100% on a homework assignment, it doesn’t mean they will remember any of the concepts come test day.
When making a study schedule with your child, make sure students spend time studying material and not just completing assignments. That means reviewing previous homework assignments, class notes, in-class assignments, and previous quizzes and tests.
Help your child learn multiple methods of studying. Not everybody likes to just stare at a page of notes. The good news is there are many ways to study: making flashcards, completing online quizzes, or reading supplementary material about a subject. Usually, a combination of these strategies yields the best results.
3. Seek Outside Help
As previously mentioned, sometimes the main reason students earn low test scores is because they truly don’t understand the concepts or because they have poor test-taking skills.
Creating study plans, talking to teachers, and identifying the problem will only get your child so far. There is a point where you need professional help to get your child back on track, so he or she can master difficult concepts and learn the important skills of time management, test-taking, and studying. This is where MEK Learning Circles can help.
About MEK Learning Circles
Our MLC program is designed to boost student’s academic skills in core areas such as Reading, Writing, and Math. Furthermore, students learn essential study habits and time management skills not often taught in school.
For instance, our Critical Reading Circles program is perfect for students who need to improve their time management and reading comprehension skills. In this course, students read a variety of fiction and non-fiction passages of increasing difficulty levels, answer questions about the passages and write a critical essay in a timed environment. All the while, students receive feedback and strategies from expert instructors.
It’s important to remember that building positive habits is not something that happens overnight. It requires effort and time from students. However, once they learn these skills, they will have lifelong habits that benefit them for their entire education.
The earlier you begin, the better. Place your kid ahead of the curve by checking out our MEK Learning Circles program, which keeps students mentally in shape when it comes to disciplined studying and hands-on learning. And our MLC program gives students the strategies to improve low test scores.
We can’t wait to hear from you!