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    « Problem Solving: How to Improve Confidence in Your Child | Main | Improve Math Skills and Social Studies Knowledge »

    Test Prep Strategies: Reduce Stress, Improve Scores

    Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D

    Help Your Child Focus

    Stress causes increased production of a hormone named cortisol. According to Dr. Blair Justice of the University of Texas Health Science Center, the cortex of the adrenal gland releases this hormone. When too much is released, it  can have a negative impact on the cells of our immune systems. Cortisol also reduces the number of "natural killer" (NK) cells. These travel through the body, looking for and destroying aberrant cells. If we don't have enough NK cells doing their job, the abnormal cells can eventually develop into tumors.

    When cortisol is racing through our bodies, it can ultimately damage the neurons in our brains. It can also cause our brains to become "frozen" in the short term. 

    Don't Be Alarmed.  Be Prepared.

    If your child tends toward anxiety before a quiz or,  a final exam, or worse yet,  a college entrance examination (SAT or ACT), you can help him maintain his focus. How? Experts tell us that engaging in mental challenge just prior to a stressful event can sharpen our focus. There are any number of exercises you can encourage your child to use before a potentially stressful events. Even if he only works on it for a minute before starting the exam, he should be able to concentrate better.

    Practice This at Home

    Continue to practice with the challenge below--at least ten minutes a week. Make up similar exercises and try to better your previous personal best each time. Challenge yourself regularly by making the test items longer--instead of six-letter words, try seven-letters the next time.

    Assignment: Once you understand how this is done, then set a timer and proceed. But first, the directions and the example:

    What two familiar words are contained in the brackets if you read the letters left, left, left (in the first, second and third brackets) and then right, right, right? [d c] [o a] [g t]?

    Did you get "dog" with the bracketed left, left, left letters and then "cat" with the bracketed letters on the right side? If so, you're ready to uncover the longer words below. If you didn't "get it," go back and read the directions and example a second time.

    1. [t a] [e d] [d h] [i e] [u r] [m e] ____________ ____________

    2. [r s] [i y] [b n] [b t] [o a] [n x] ____________ ____________

    3. [u l] [n e] [i s] [s s] [o e] [n n] ____________ ____________

    4. [n a] [u n] [m c] [b h] [e o] [r r] ____________ ____________

    5. [i a] [n s] [s p] [u e] [r c] [e t] ____________ ____________

    6. [c g] [o o] [m v] [m e] [i r] [t n] ____________ ____________

    7. [s s] [i u] [g d] [n d] [a e] [l n] ____________ ____________

    8. [c d] [o e] [l c] [l a] [a d] [r e] ____________ ____________

    9. [f c] [o o] [r l] [e o] [s n] [t y] ____________ ____________

    10. [a u] [n n] [s i] [w t] [e e] [r d] ____________ ____________

    A Word of Encouragement

    You won't know if your child's concentrative ability is improving unless you are keeping a log, detailing how long it takes him to complete each exercise. And, if you are serious about making that improvement, get several friends/family member/other parents to make up the practice sheets. The larger the number of practice sheets, the longer you can assist your child in this focus-improvement effort.

    Have Your Child Use These At School

    At ThinkTutoring, we are always looking for ways to enable students to perform better in various scholastic settings. These exercises should be worked on for just a minute, at times when your child may find her mental energies scattered. Encourage her to do a short exercise like the one above, just before she has to give an oral report or take a test or do anything else that may cause her to lose confidence. Here are additional possibilities for preventing the temporary freezing of the brain.

    1) Name several words, each spelling with six letters, that refer to body parts. (You cannot just use an "s" at the end of a five-letter word.) One example would be "muscle."

    2) Name several famous people whose name begins with a vowel.

    3) Name as many states as  you can, in alphabetical order.

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