Executive Function and Test Preparation

Executive Function and Test Preparation

Marta (an imaginary student facing a very common problem) comes home to her parents brandishing a red “C” on the top of her test, feeling devastated, frustrated, and hopeless. She tells his parents that he always studies hard, and, yet again and again, she has little to show for it. Each time she thinks he’ll do well, and when she fails she is shocked.

Marta is like many of the students we see at ILD and ResearchILD. When asking these students what “studying hard” means to them, they may answer: “Well, I went through the review packet my teacher gave me. It took me a really long time.” But what these students do not understand—because it is rarely taught in school—is that simply filling out a packet or reviewing class notes is just the first step. By itself,  reviewing the material on the test is not an explicit study strategy.

Luckily, we have developed concrete executive function strategies that can help students move past the passive “study strategies” with which they have become comfortable. And because test preparation and test-taking have become a hurdle for so many students, we have made them the topic of our presentation at this year’s 31st annual Learning Differences Conference. On Friday, March, 11, Michael Greschler, Ed.M, Wendy Stacey, M.S. and I will be reviewing the life cycle of a test and addressing explicit executive function strategies students can use to help them maximize their studying efficiency and recall throughout the process. Specifically, we will help attendees learn to teach their students to:


  • Plan: If it’s a big test, waiting until the night before to study is not a good strategy. How can teachers/parents help their students to look ahead and create a reasonable study plan that breaks up the studying across multiple days?


  • Prioritize: Students waste a lot of time studying the information they already know. How can teachers/parents help students determine which information is the most important to focus on?


  • Create a study tool: Creating a personal study guide with priority information and remembering strategies will enable students to recall the information they study. What are some proven study tools that can aid in this step of the process?


  • Quiz themselves: This is a tried-and-true part of the process. What are some ways students can effectively quiz themselves?


  • Analyze previous errors in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future: Looking for patterns of errors in previous tests can help students avoid those same errors again. What are some strategies for analyzing and recording errors so that students can effectively remember and avoid them?


We’ll be exploring these steps, and more, at the SMARTS presentation at this year’s Learning Differences Conference.

ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference is held yearly at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, bringing teachers, administrators, and parents together to learn about the science behind learning differences and concrete approaches to helping children. If you’re interested in attending or learning more, check out our conference website!

—Elana Snow, Ed.M., SMARTS Curriculum Coordinator