A karate instructor told me to worry about moving with proper form, and let the speed come after. It’s true in taking tests too. There are a few of us out there who can take tests with no effort and do just fine. They’re rare.

     Most of us think of a test as a way to see if we know a subject. It would be nice if it were that easy. But there seems to be a sort of arms race going on; As people learn the tricks of a test, the tricks have to change to keep everyone from acing test. If they didn’t change, the tests would be out of business.

     So once we’ve figured out that knowledge of a subject is not enough to get a good score (And it isn’t: Try one of your kids’ standardized tests when you have a free hour), we must learn a better way to take a test. These types of test-taking skills should be taught in schools anyway, but that’s a whole other blog.

     The form of test taking means learning how to deal with test questions in a different way than we deal with classwork, or homework. These are skills that have to be practiced and absorbed: Even after students have learned the best way to work a test problem, they frequently revert back to old habits. When that happens, the result is more confusion, more hurry, and fewer points.

     So we have students practice without the clock at first. We have them start to use the strategies that help get the most points in the shortest amount of time, and we have them work slowly. They’re getting their form down the way athletes do at a “walk-through” practice. When the form is in place, we start the clock. Now that they know how to take a test with proper form, they learn how to deal with speed. They learn when to bypass the unnecessary fluff that they might have to do on their homework, but not here. They learn when to let go of a problem that’s wasting a lot of time, and move on to easier problems that might get them two or three points in the same time it would have taken them to wrestle with that one tough one. They learn to perform “surgery” on a problem, which means moving quickly without carelessly throwing away and easy point.

     If you want to see how this works, find a ballet documentary to rent or stream. In the beginning of all of these docs, the dancers are working slowly on the moves until they get them right. By the end of the show, they’re moving like lightning.