“Do you see a pattern here?” I ask him.
“Yeah, I know. I’m doing great work, but my test scores suck.”
“You sound like this is a pattern you know.”
“It’s true in every class. I just don’t take tests well.”
“You know, I hear that a lot. The problem is, once you’ve said it you aren’t any better off. People don’t do well on tests for a whole range of reasons. Do you know why you don’t do well? For instance, do you find yourself feeling panicky because you don’t have enough time?”
“No, I always finish with time to spare. It’s not so much that I feel panicky, I just get surprised by what’s on the test.”
“Jacob, I notice you have more difficulties with the skills tests. Are you able to do the problem solving homework well?”
“But when you see the same kind of problem on a test, you don’t always know how to do it, right?”
“That’s true, but I feel like there’s always something I’m not sure about.”
“Let me ask you this; when you do a problem set at home, are you sure you can do every problem by yourself without looking at the helpful hints?”
“Well, there’s usually one or two of the harder problems where I need a little help.”
“That’s fine. But then do you do the back-up practice problems?”
“Sometimes, but only if I feel like I don’t get it.”
“Jacob, it’s very easy to gloss over something that you haven’t quite mastered. ‘Yeah, yeah’, you say to yourself, now I get it. But unless you can do every problem start to finish completely independently, and look at the answer key and see that you did the whole process correctly, you’re not ready for the test.
“It’s like somebody practicing a piano piece, and getting a couple of notes wrong, but feeling good about it. Then, during the recital, those mistakes rise up and bite you. You discover you’re not ready, you get blindsided, you lose confidence. Does that sound familiar?”
“Yes it does.”
“So what are you going to do differently next quarter, do you think?”
“I’m going to watch very carefully whether I need helpful hints, and whether I’m dead on right when I see the answer key. And if I need to practice, I’ll do more practice.”
“That’s a plan.”
I write down some comments to summarize what he just said.
“We’ll look at this again at the end of the next quarter, and see how you do with this plan.”