Over the past few weeks I have heard a lot of self doubt from students that are willing to do all the right things, but are failing math tests. It makes me wonder, why is this happening and how can I help these students see themselves as the successful mathematicians that they are?

So I asked each student about their testing process and concluded they were rushing to finish.  They were not rushing because they wanted to be done, they were rushing because they were under time constraints set by their teachers.  As they are describing their experiences, many of the students expressed the anxiety they feel when they look at the clock or hear the teacher call time during a test.

As a classroom teacher, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. One of our goals as math teachers is to nurture the problem solving process which can be time consuming. How can we expect students to problem solve when they are rushed? I am constantly reminding students to check their work and don’t rush! How can two math teachers be teaching the same content so differently?

I have a hard time rationalizing the requirement that students complete a test within a class period and not providing additional time when needed. We are living in a standards-based era and we aren’t giving students the time to demonstrate their understanding. I couldn’t believe my own ears.

Timed Tests and Math

So what do I do? I run a quick search on the internet looking for any articles I might find on timed math tests.  I quickly saw many articles ranting about the negative effect of timed testing on elementary students, but found nothing on timed testing in the upper grades. I’m curious about what the research would say or does say if it exists.  Personally, it goes against my own beliefs.  If a student can demonstrate that they understand the content standards in 10 minutes instead of 20 minutes, I don’t believe they are smarter or better mathematicians than their peers.

I’m sure we can all come up with plenty of reasons for time constraints in our classrooms, but at the expense of a child’s self beliefs?  I hope we can identify alternatives that would allow us to move forward, but also allow students the time needed to experience success.

If your child complains that they do not have enough time to complete a test and check their work, contact your child’s teacher and ask for additional time.  Possible solutions may include:

1) Arrive to school early and begin tests before class.

2) Start the test during recess, lunch or a study period.

3) Stay after school to complete the test.

4) Stay and complete the test during the next class period and work with the other teacher to make up work.

5) Creating shorter tests in the future.

Most teachers will agree that the purpose of a test is for a child to demonstrate what they know. If the child needs more time to demonstrate the many great things they have learned, work with your child’s teacher to provide the additional time.

If you agree or disagree, I would love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below and let’s chat.

Angela Culley

Angela Culley

Owner & Tutor at Math Ninja, LLC
As the founder of Math Ninja, Angela provides online and in person math tutoring for all ages including those studying for the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, PPST, and other math specific subject assessments. Prior to launching her business, Angela coached K-12 educators on effective teaching strategies, curriculum writing, and assessment development.As a classroom teacher, she taught math to students ranging from grade 5 - 12. She has also taught both undergraduate and graduate math courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and Mountain State University.
Angela Culley
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2 thoughts on “Timed Testing in Math – Just Say No

  • February 11, 2014 at 8:51 am
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    Candice, thanks for stopping by and providing such a thoughtful response. It sounds like you have it figured out for your own classroom!

  • February 11, 2014 at 2:48 am
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    I agree within reason.

    When I taught high school I had parents demand extra time for their student to complete an incomplete test, when I know that is the best the student can do (either due to being in too difficult of a class, missing excessive classes, or not being mentally “present” in class). It was a different story if the student came to me directly after the test and wanted to stay for the next class period. However, sometimes students would ask to come finish the next class day or after school so they could study the problems they missed before finishing.

    If a student knew they were going to take longer, I either had them pulled and taken to a quiet room or had them stay after the class and made sure to talk to their next teacher ahead of time.

    An experienced teacher should be able to write tests that are able to be completed within the time given. If there is only one student not completing the test in time, then it is up to the student, parent, teacher team (sometimes other special ed teachers too if that is the case) to help the student learn skills to complete the material in an appropriate amount of time.

    In my experience, students who take longer on tests and homework usually don’t have their math facts memorized and are not strong with mental math. Some practice or review of these topics can help catch them up.

    Whew! Sorry that was so long!

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