Dear Judy,

My mother told me that I should write to you about the fact that that I forgot all my math facts when the teacher gave us two minutes to solve 32 multiplication problems. Do you think two minute tests should be allowed?

Jake (4th grader)

Dear Jake,

Short, timed tests are tough, but they do have a purpose. Before we discuss that, I want to assure you that you are not alone -- many kids lose it when they first meet a timed test, even in places where test prep pressure is not as strong as it is in NYC schools.

Fortunately, what you describe is not the situation you will face when you take the New York State math test in May. Then you will have an hour and a half -- plenty of time to pace yourself. You can tackle the easy problems first, and then go back to those you have trouble with.

Nevertheless, you will be given short two-minute test prep exercises all along the way to graduation and to do well on them, you have to keep your cool and you have to practice. Just as you will before every test, tell yourself, this test will help me find out what I still have to work on. Then tell yourself, I am going to do the best I can. Then take a deep breath and start.<!--more-->

I can almost guarantee that the more math facts become automatic in your head, the easier it will be to perform under pressure. So remember, it's really important to practice, practice, practice. Get someone at home to time you so you are used to the pressure when the actual quiz is given.

And be glad that this was not an oral test. Oral tests, timed or not, are the hardest for some people. Sometimes in math, the teacher asks you to stand up in front of the whole class and add a long row of figure, or solve some problems. At least that's what I remember from my long-ago education and it truly undid my confidence in arithmetic. Try not to let that happen to you. As long as you know the combinations and strategies you need to solve math problems, and use your "keep cool" techniques, you can gain confidence.

Timed or open-ended, tests are supposed to be a way to figure out what you have learned and what you need to work on further. I personally think the short, timed tests are okay, as long as they are teaching tools and not an important part of a kid's grade. After all, thinking fast is helpful, but being thoughtful is what education is all about.

Good luck,