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The Ultimate Guide to Boost your Child’s Math & ELA Scores
Tests are supposed to be an indicator of learning, so when a child goes into a test, they should have studied and prepared to excel, right?
What happens when your child has studied all night, but they scored 75% on their math test? And how do parents help their children who struggle with test-taking anxiety?
As nice as it would be, taking a test is not done in a vacuum. Students are dynamic, and bring their experience, knowledge, and stress into the classroom on testing days.
In short, there are a million different factors that go into a child’s success on a test.
There are many things that you can do at home to help your child perform better on tests.
You might already be doing many of the things on this list!
This guide will give you practical and easy-to-implement tips to help you encourage your child and improve test scores.
When somebody climbs a mountain, they have more success and an easier time when they find a groomed trail to follow to the end.
Our brains are very similar to a trail– when we learn, we are creating neural paths that help us access the information more easily.
When your child is consistently practicing, while having fun in a low-stress environment, they are creating the neural paths to remember the information they will later be tested on.
As a teacher with nearly a decade of experience, I know what students need to earn better grades on tests. As a parent, I understand the constraints of practicing at home.
From the extracurricular activities, lack of resources, and lack of time, adding something like extra math or English practice can sound like a nightmare.
When you add into the mix multiple kids, parents can get caught up in creating stress in the home trying to help all of their kids improve.
The good news is that you don’t have to carve out two extra hours each night to help your child improve.
How to Use this Guide
This guide is broken up into tips for math and ELA, but many of the tips apply to all classes and tests.
Even though I am an educator, I am also a parent and understand the challenges of supporting learning at home. The goal of each suggestion is to promote a positive home experience while delivering results.
1. Use Manipulatives
If your child struggles with complex math concepts, consider using manipulatives to help them practice and learn.
The challenge with math is often the struggle happens when trying to make the connection between concrete and abstract levels of thinking.
While manipulatives often look like toys (think stacking blocks or even candy), manipulatives help children see the math in front of them.
By engaging children through the use of manipulatives, you will be able to walk them through the steps of math problems and pinpoint the trouble spots.
By the time the test happens, you will have walked through the steps with them. You maybe have even given them helpful tips on how to process through the problems without manipulatives!
2. Challenge Your Child’s Critical Thinking
One thing I regularly have to remind myself of as a parent is, “My daughter’s teacher doesn’t care that I know how to do x, y, and z.”
I am not the one who has to prove my understanding, and so, it’s not my job to do the work for my child.
As a teacher and parent, this is easier said than done! I know that if my daughter would just give me the scissors, we could have this cut out and glued in 4 minutes, instead of 15.
Give your child the space to struggle! It’s not about watching them be miserable, but it is about letting them work through concepts to develop understanding.
Think about it this way: Let’s say you wanted to train for a marathon, but you had little running experience.
Your friend is an ultramarathon runner, so you asked them for some tips. Instead of showing you the best nutrition and training programs, your friend just started running for you.
The day of the marathon came, and you had only logged ten or so miles during your training. Meanwhile, your friend had logged hundreds and was on the sideline, cheering you on.
How well do you think the marathon would go for you? Would you get to the finish line? Would you quit after mile 3?
Transfer the Learning Back to Your Child
When your child is the one who has to demonstrate the learning, we do not help by taking over the thinking for them.
When helping your child practice, ask questions to get them talking about their process:
“That’s interesting that you got the answer this way: how did you do it?”
“When your teacher showed you this example in class, what did they say to do next?”
“Why do you think that is the right answer?”
When children increase their understanding of math, they are increasing their critical thinking skills.
3. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions promote higher-level thinking in all aspects of your child’s education. We all know that classic example: if you ask your child, “Did you have a good day?“, you have invited your child to respond in one of two ways, “yes” or “no.”
When you ask an open-ended question, “Tell me the most surprising part of your day,” your child has to think through their day, process what they did, and tell you about what surprised them.
When you apply this same concept to practicing math, you can help them think critically about what they are learning.
The next time you are helping your child with math homework, think about how you can ask open-ended questions. This can be as simple as, “Okay, what kind of problem is this?” to “What step comes after adding those two numbers?”
4. Create a Predictable Routine
Studies show that students should get between 60-90 minutes of math practice each day. Between classroom instruction and at-home work, they may be hovering around the 45-60 minute mark, leaving some room for extra practice.
If your child wants to improve their test scores, the very best thing that they can do is continue to add math practice time to their days.
The best way to do this is to create a routine, so your child can predict when math practice is going to happen each day.
Students thrive on routine. When their days look the same, and they can predict the next activities, they tend to do better on their academic work and behave better in the classroom.
This is why so many teachers have routines and schedules that never change in the classroom.
Consider adopting the same concept in your home when it comes to after school homework and activities.
Find a Routine That Works in Your Home
If your child knows that they have to do one page of math practice every night after dinner, after a week or two, they will not fight it, because they will know the expectation.
Life gets busy, and it’s easy to let things like extra math practice get skipped. You must stick to a routine if your child wants to improve their test scores.
Your child needs to know that you are going to make sure they see their practice time through. If they start the practice, work with them to help them finish it.
Of course, it should never feel like pulling teeth. If your child meets you with some resistance about adding extra math practice, consider setting a timer for 5-10 minutes at first. Add time every week until you reach your desired amount of time (or they complete the work, whichever works for your family).
Finding High-Quality Practice
The internet is filled with countless practice resources, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming to look for and find high-quality materials that are helping your child improve. ArgoPrep’s complete K-8 workbooks and online learning platform is the perfect all-inclusive resource for parents who want to help their child.
All ArgoPrep practice problems include detailed video explanations of all of the questions and easy access to all of the answers.
ArgoPrep’s workbooks and online program are Common Core, Next Generation Learning Standards, and State Aligned.
Finally, ArgoPrep breaks up their workbooks into daily practice sheets, meaning that your child won’t be overwhelmed with pages upon pages of practice.
Instead, ArgoPrep maximizes children’s attention spans with useful and concise practice problems, sure to aid in understanding complex topics.
5. Practice Makes (Nearly) Perfect
One of the best ways that you can help your child perform better on tests is to replicate the testing experience at home.
Every time your child takes a practice test, it makes the real test seem less intimidating. This goes back to those neural pathways. When we have groomed the trail, it’s easier to access the information.
When your child can confidently walk into a test and see a problem that they knew to expect, they spend less time, stress, and energy trying to figure out what to do.
Did you know that ArgoPrep has resources available to help prepare your child for standardized tests?
Each workbook includes practice problems that directly mimic problems your child would encounter on a standardized test.
6. Pinpoint the Trouble Spots
Once you identify where your child is struggling or needs extra support, you will be able to make sure that their practice is valuable.
As your child grows, the math they learn will become increasingly more complex. Make sure that you are paying attention to concepts that they are struggling with.
If you can quickly identify that they are struggling, you will be able to give them the support they need immediately. By waiting a month (or a year), the equations will be more complex, so you will have to reteach from where they started struggling.
7. Make Practicing Fun
Working with your child, come up with ways to make at-home practice fun. This can be with a prize incentive, games, dance parties, or whatever will engage your child the most.
My daughter is highly extrinsically motivated. When she is struggling with tackling work at home, we come up with a reward that will help drive her.
This can be a prize from our prize bucket, an ice cream date with mommy, or even arts and crafts time when she’s finished.
When I turn the focus away from grinding through the work and focus on a fun finish line, my daughter’s entire demeanor changes.
Every child is different, and they learn differently. If your child loves sports, think (or google) a way to practice while bouncing a ball or playing basketball.
If your child loves video games, find a way to get them to practice while online.
When you make practicing fun, you have a two-fold benefit. First, your child will be more likely to complete the practice.
Secondly, when your child is having fun while practicing, you are helping rewrite any negative connotations they may have about math.
8. Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher
If your child is struggling, make sure to reach out to their teacher. Teachers can help you identify key areas where your child is struggling, as well as offer important tips to help them have more success.
Teachers will also be able to work alongside your child in the class to help give them direct instruction.
As a teacher, I always appreciate it when I hear from parents about what’s going on at home. If my student is struggling with something we’re covering in class but doesn’t speak up during class time, I can’t improve the instruction.
When a parent communicates, teachers can provide more effective practice, instruction, and more times than not, other students will benefit from the change of instruction.
If your child is struggling, one of your first moves should be reaching out to their teacher to see if you can create a plan for success.
9. Use Games and Mnemonic Devices:
I have been out of school for a long, long time. That doesn’t change the fact that I can still remember that “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” is the order of operations.
Mnemonic devices can be valuable tools for children to learn complex topics.
If your child has been taught a mnemonic device to remember a concept, encourage them to repeat it while they’re practicing.
One of my favorite resources for students is the website Flocabulary. This website takes topics that your child is learning in school and converts the facts into catchy raps and songs.
Children will find themselves reciting the song (and the content) without even thinking about it.
By converting the information into fun and engaging songs, mnemonic devices, and games, your child is more likely to synthesize the information.
10. Switch Roles with Your Child
To help reinforce what your child is learning, flip the classroom! Assume the role of the student, and have your child walk you through each of the problems.
When your child is the teacher, they can explain their thinking and necessary steps.
When your child is acting as the teacher, it allows you time to ask clarifying questions. “Wait, what does this number need to do here?” will challenge your child to talk about all parts of the problem.
When your child is teaching you, they are laying the foundation for a deeper understanding of the work.
While it is great if your child can recite multiplication tables, it is vital that they can demonstrate an understanding of concepts no matter what the problem is.
11. Show Your Work
There are countless reasons why showing your work is important to improve your math scores.
I can still remember when I was in school and taking a multiple-choice test. I would work through the problem, find a solution, and then look at the answer options, with my answer nowhere to be seen (sometimes it was even scarier when I would get four and the answers were around 500!).
When students show their work, they can go through each step and make sure that they have done each step correctly.
It is important for students to get into the habit of showing their work for every problem. Having this muscle memory in place will make it easier to do when they are taking a test.
When students get into the habit of showing their work, they also have a record of their thought process while computing. This can be especially helpful before any tests because they can ask their teachers questions with their work.
Teachers can more easily mitigate any errors when they can see how your child is processing through the information.
Finally, often when students show their work, they will earn partial credit on the problem. If they show no work, they will miss the question entirely.
12. Create a Positive Learning Environment
Often, parents are the cause of children hating math. It’s a natural cycle where a parent is anxious about math, so they pass that on to their kids, and then the child thinks, “Well, math is hard, I don’t get it, and I never will.”
Yes, math is challenging, but it’s not impossible!
As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is to create a positive learning environment.
Math practice shouldn’t end with fighting and tears. Taking steps to keep math at home low-stress will help curb your child’s test-taking anxiety.
13. Build Confidence
Find opportunities to praise your child’s abilities. If your child is struggling with certain concepts, help build their confidence by praising them when they accomplish challenging tasks.
Find opportunities that will result in a positive outcome as it pertains to their math practice.
Hang up work that you (and they) are proud of. Plan ice cream dates. Or ask them what they are proud of, focusing your excitement on their accomplishments.
When you build confidence, then your child is more willing to tackle more complex problems without immediately thinking they are doomed.
14. Hack the Test
One of the most challenging parts of taking a standardized test is not knowing how to eliminate options to get closer to the answer. One of the ways that you can teach this to your child is to help them process through which answers are obviously incorrect.
The first thing that students should be able to do is read through test questions to make sure they understand what it’s asking.
Teachers use a variety of questions, including questions like, “All of the following answers are correct, except…”
Student’s anxiety during tests can be high enough that they will make simple errors like missing a word in the question that is key to get the right answers.
Talk with your children about reading test questions before jumping into the answers.
Next, encourage your child to eliminate 1 or 2, obviously incorrect answers. By taking out 2 of the wrong answers, they have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right.
15. Prepare for Test Day
One of the very best ways that you can help your child succeed on tests is to help them be ready when the day arrives. This is not just making sure they’ve done the homework or crammed the night before.
Sustained practice and focus on trouble spots are vital in helping your child prepare.
It’s also important to make sure that your child has had a good night of sleep, a filling and healthy breakfast, and a low-stress morning, to help them be prepared for the day ahead of them.
This is not the day that they should miss the bus or have a fight about which clothes to wear to school.
Instead, make the morning as simplified as possible. Leave margin for your child to talk about the test if they want, but also don’t press it if they don’t.
If you have been helping them study and prepare for their tests, then you know that they’re ready. There is no value in drilling them the morning of (unless that’s what they want!).
16. Encourage Brain Breaks
When your child is preparing for a test, it is important to encourage brain breaks.
Research shows that the average elementary student has an attention span of 10-18 minutes. By the end of their class time or lecture, students sometimes can show an attention span of 3-4 minutes!
Brain breaks are short breaks in the middle of studying and learning to reset and recharge your child.
If your child is working on homework, encourage a brain break (or healthy snack break) that takes your child away from the material.
There are also many resources online for brain break dances. Visit YouTube or Spotify and type in “Brain breaks” and have a 3-minute dance party to get their wiggles out.
By enforcing a brain break, you can recharge your student, and they will come back refreshed and ready to tackle their work. This is key to helping a student retain the information.
17. Find Engaging Reading Material
Reading fluency is key to higher test scores. Your child doesn’t need to be a super reader to get high scores, but they should be hitting benchmark expectations for their grade level.
If your child doesn’t love to read, challenge yourself to find resources that will excite and engage them.
There are magazines, graphic novels, fiction, and non-fiction books available on a wide range of topics. But also consider reading recipes, subtitles, and even instruction manuals for building things such as LEGOS which will increase reading fluency.
You should continue to read aloud to your child as well. When children hear us reading, they are more likely to engage with the story and have an investment in the plot. They also will learn the rhythm and how to emphasize words correctly.
All of these tips will increase children’s reading fluency and test scores!
18. Cut Out the Cram
One of the worst things that a student can do the night before a test is cram. Cramming, or studying for an extended amount of time shortly before the exam, is a recipe for disaster.
As discussed before, a student’s attention span ranges from 3-10 minutes. If your child is dedicating 2-3 hours the night before a test to study, they are likely going to lose information as they are studying.
Instead, students should get into the habit of studying each night for 10-20 minutes.
If your child’s teacher has given them a study guide, this should be used as a resource to study the correct information.
By practicing over a sustained amount of time, they can retain more information and build on the complexity of it.
ArgoPrep’s practice workbooks are a perfect resource for practicing and studying for exams.
Instead of spending time printing out practice sheets, ArgoPrep has done the hard work, so you and your child can focus on the skills.
Each workbook contains daily practice that will build on itself and accurately reflect questions they can expect to see on standardized tests.
19. Use Active Reading Skills
There are three parts of being a great reader: reading, understanding, and remembering.
We have all been there: We have to read 15 pages of our book tonight, but after 20 minutes, we realize that we’ve just been staring at the page, no closer to being done with our assignment!
We must be active readers to read, understand, and remember what we’re learning.
Active reading includes finding a comfortable (but not too comfortable) spot to read. When your child is sitting up straight and engaged, they are practicing active reading.
They should have a space to keep supplies like highlighters or pens, and as they read, they should practice annotating their text.
Once they finish reading, ask your child open-ended questions about what they are reading, “What did you read about today?”, “That’s super interesting, why do you think the character did that,” etc. will get your child talking about what they read, and simultaneously they’ll be cementing it into their minds.
20. Practice Decoding Skills
When students struggle with reading text, they are spending more time trying to figure out what the question literally says instead of figuring out what they’re supposed to be answering.
If your child is a slow reader, they are not going to be able to tackle as much during a test. When they are feeling anxious because they aren’t reading as quickly as they need, then they will feel rushed and start making mistakes.
If you want to help your child decode words, there are many fun ways that you can do it at home. By practicing spelling and reading singular words, children will be able to practice the letter sounds, syllables, and how different letters sound together.
These decoding activities will help them become more fluent readers. If you notice that your child struggles with a specific word sound (like –sh, -ck, or ch-), for example, find words that will practice these individually.
Here is a shortlist of fun decoding activities you can do at home:
- Back writing: Have your child trace words with their finger on your back. Guess the word they are spelling. Then trade places, spell out a word on their back with your finger and have them guess.
- Use sensory play: Whether you use shaving cream, playdoh, or kinetic sand, there are many ways for children to practice decoding skills with sensory play. Have your child read a word and mold it out of playdoh, or have them write the word in the sand.
- Practice sight words: There are numerous resources online to find the precise sight words your child should be able to identify at their age. Start challenging your child to find them in the “wild”. When you are driving to soccer practice, say, “Our word today is _______, let’s see how many times we can find it”.
21. Reinforce Annotating Text
I remember the first time a teacher told me to annotate the text. What did that even mean?
Annotating text, simply put, is writing on your reading passages. Underlining, circling, and highlighting are all effective ways of annotating.
If your child’s teacher hasn’t provided one, create a system for your child to use when taking a test. A circle can represent words they don’t know, underlining for the main idea, and stars next to devices such as a metaphor, for example.
When annotating text, your child is basically creating the Cliff Notes version of the reading passage. Instead of having to comb through all of the text, they can quickly return to the key parts of the passage.
When your child goes into the classroom for a big test, you want to feel confident that they are ready to show their knowledge.
As a parent, I want my daughter to succeed, because yes, high grades are important. But I also want her to build her confidence in the classroom. I know high grades today are building blocks to seeing high stakes standardized assessments as more approachable.
By creating a positive environment to practice and reinforce skills and concepts at home, parents will be able to help their children achieve higher scores on tests.
This guide serves as the roadmap to the ultimate destination of a confident and responsible student. Continue to reinforce consistent practice, positive and fun learning opportunities, and spotting the problems as they arise, and your child will be well on their way to higher test scores!