Sunday, May 05, 2013

Exam Stress

The AP Calculus AB exam is in a few days, and of course we are hard-core reviewing and mock testing and discussing the whole year in preparation. One of my students asked me to make them inspirational messages, and my first thought was that I would video various teachers around campus rooting for them and post it on Haiku. That didn't happen. Instead, I've been finding funny pictures and writing some goofy message related to studying and/or math and/or testing, etc and sending them out daily. They seem to like this.

But this post is really about how much brain space you use when you are stressed or focusing on things OTHER than the question you are answering on a timed test and then stressing while you are watching the time tick down and knowing you SHOULDN'T be thinking about the "other" thing and then stressing more because you are wasting time and then trying to refocus on the problem and then stressing because it's not IMMEDIATELY on the tip of your brain, and then the whole cycle repeats itself.

Oy! Who hasn't been there. I forgot about this AGAIN, and haven't really had a discussion with my class about it. And I don't know if there is a solution. But here's what brought it to my mind this week.

My class was doing a timed Free Response question, and I gave them 15 minutes, and put the timer on the document camera, so we could gauge our time (I was doing the problem with them). A couple of things you need to know. This year, I checked out TI-nspire calculators to my 22 students. I've also been providing batteries (well, our department has). They absorb and go through the batteries FAST. I've since mentioned that we are out of money, and the students have to buy a fresh pack of batteries before Wednesday for the test. So, back to test day this past week. One student (who I have an up and down history with in terms of attitude) right before the test mentioned that her batteries were out, and could she borrow another TI-nspire for the FRQ in class. Yes.

So the test starts, and I start the timer, and I start taking the test with them. A few minutes into it, I hear this noisiness at that student's table. I look over, and she's transferring the batteries from "my" calculator to her calculator, and then proceeds to use her calculator. Then I start seething and thinking the worst. Then I start not concentrating on the question. Then I start looking at the timer and stressing because I'm not focusing and I'm not making progress on the problem. Then I start cursing her in my mind and thinking about all sorts of reasons she's doing this. Bla bla bla. Then I start thinking about how this is what the students must be feeling when they're in a timed stressful test situation and "WELCOME TO THEIR WORLD".

Anyway, the timer went off. NO I did not finish. I waited to see what the student would do. Would she just hand back my calculator with the bad batteries? Class was ending. She didn't say anything. I didn't want to be too accusatory, but I asked for the calculator back and asked her if it was her dead batteries or mine in there. She mentioned that the glide pad wasn't working on "mine", so that's why she transferred batteries .... (but then she didn't retransfer, hmmmmm).

Long post longer. I need to have a discussion on Monday with (half) my class (others are in the APES exam) (hah! APES .... AP Environmental Science) about stress and brain space and such during a timed test. Any suggestions on what could make me/them/anyone refocus on the problem at hand instead of other non-test brain activity? Thanks in advance.


  1. I used to send my class an e-mail wishing them luck and telling them how much they accomplished and learned and how great they were, no matter what score they got. The exam was like the icing in a bowl--an added bonus because they still got to eat the cake.

    Good luck to all your students. I don't miss the stress of preparation but I do miss the thrill of doing it.

  2. Thanks for the good wishes :). Still love hearing about all your walking adventures.

  3. Anonymous9:02 AM

    I've never been able to learn anything when I feel stressed about a test the next day. So the advice I'm going to give to my AP Calc class today is to do max 10 minutes of studying tonight and to get a good night's sleep.

    I realize this isn't in-test advice, but hopefully all the hard work is done by then.

  4. Thanks, Mr. C. I think it's great advice not to cram the last night before the test.

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