Is your child a poor test taker? 3 ways to improve scores


Question: My child studies for a test, and seems to know the material, but consistently tests poorly. This happens in chapter tests, and especially in end of year achievement tests. What can I do?

Answer: This is truly a puzzling scenario for the parent, and a frustrating one for the child or teen. When I worked with those bright, hard-working kids and teens who consistently tested poorly, I employed a “Testing Success Program” that anyone can do at home. It is highly effective, and so easy to do. This program will train the child or teen to use both sides of his/her brain. Most test prep courses use the left brain (auditory memory with repetition) for preparation. This method didn’t work for my bright, creative, but more right brained students. I taught them how to store memory in the right side of their brain. They always improved on their tests … and many times by leaps!

There were three parts to this program: Right Brain Study Skills, Test Preparation, and Testing Day Strategies.

1. Right Brain Study Skill

College Students

This is a totally different way of studying. The story of Edward Hughes is told in the book, Use Both Sides of Your Brain by Tony Buzan. Edward was a seventeen-year-old high school student who decided in his senior year that he wanted to attend Cambridge University. He went to his teachers for a reference letter so he could sit for the entrance exams. Teacher after teacher refused to give him the reference letter because he was a “B/C” student. They said that the students they referred were all “A” students.

Undaunted, Edward decided to pay for his own entrance exams. Before the exams, he knew that he needed to study, but in a different way this time, if he was going to have success. He gathered his notes from his History, Economics, Geography, and other classes, and made “Picture Notes” instead of writing out the usual linear notes. Using this method he had tremendous success. He was accepted into Cambridge University. His scores were:


He graduated in three years, played in three sports, and was a leader in two school clubs. He said he completed all his homework in half the time as his peers, using these unique Right Brain (Picture) study methods. He said, “I learned how to use my whole brain.”

Another example of a college student using this unique method for studying is Nicole Gates. Nicole is presently a junior in college, studying Psychology. She said that her most difficult subject was Physiological Psychology. She made the same kind of Picture Notes that Edward Hughes did. She said that not only did she pass all her tests easily in this hard course, but all her roommates also wanted to learn how to take notes her way.1

Middle School Students

When I taught Twice Exceptional (“Gifted with a Glitch”) middle schoolers in my Resource Room, their teachers told me that they could never pass their Social Studies tests even though they studied the material. To help them with this, I set up a class to teach them Right Brain Study Skills using their Social Studies lessons as the content. Since I had a group of them, I used my overhead projector. As we read the chapter together, we stopped at intervals and talked about what we had just learned. Then I drew sketches (mostly stick figures) about the material we wanted to remember. For example, when we were studying the Fertile Crescent and the Phoenician trade, I drew a picture of a crescent moon with fertile written on it. For the trade I drew the boats, etc. It was a fun and interesting way to learn the material and digest it.

Each day we would add the pertinent notes in picture form to our transparencies, being sure to use colored markers since pictures, color, story and emotion engage the right brain where our long term memory is stored. By the end of the chapter, we generally were at the end of the transparency. Then we took a “mental picture” of the whole transparency. When the test came, they could easily pull up the pictures in which we had imbedded the data that needed to be memorized. This imbedding of picture and data is the key to effortless retrieval of information.

Eventually, by training their photographic memory using this studying process, many of them were even able to take a picture of an entire page in their book, and retrieve the facts when they needed them.2

2. Test Preparation

Does your child really need the accommodation of more testing time, or does he or she just need to learn how to take a test?

Josh was a high school sophomore. His tester said that he tested so low in end of the year tests over the years that he needed an IEP that would allow him to take double the time for his tests. He was also given remedial reading comprehension skills books to work on. In an Educational Consultation, I gave his mom a learning plan that I felt would enable him to pass his end of the year test. Rather than work on the comprehension skills workbooks, I had her use three class periods a week devoted to learning how to take tests. We called this elective class “Test Study Skills.” This is a very trainable skill, but it takes guided practice for a student to learn how to use his brain in this way. It is important for these students to practice their skills on actual tests. Josh’s mom ordered practice tests at his grade level online.3

For right-brain learners, the common study strategy of reading the questions first and then reading the passage does not work well. Rather, we model how to truly “engage” in the reading passage by reading this aloud together, stopping often and making a “movie” together of just what is happening in the passage. Talk about the movie. Strategize how to make the pictures dynamic so they stick. Add emotion and weirdness to help make them memorable. When you have studied the passage together in this manner, you each independently answer the questions for that passage. Then compare notes. Have the student explain his answer choice using the picture or movie he had. If it is wrong, re-read it, and have him see where his movie failed him. He will soon learn to make much more detailed movies. Even though this process takes time to train, at the end of this training, students do it very quickly as they are reading. Trust me. This really does happen.

In Josh’s case, at the end of the year, this previously “poor test taker” tested with scores way above grade level in his end of the year achievement test, except in spelling. In fact, his scores were two and three grades above grade level. His mom had given him double the time, which was allowed on his IEP. However, with many of his scores two and three years above grade level, he definitely did not need the double time accommodation. The skills she taught him worked wonderfully. From now on, no timing accommodations will be needed on tests.

These skills were also applicable to other kinds of testing. Josh’s mom said that he passed his driver’s test with a high score—a task that would have been unheard of before acquiring his new test-taking skills.

This process works very well for tutoring a student in taking the ACT. Brian, a high school senior, was very disappointed with his ACT score. Even though he had been an avid reader all his life, he scored low in reading. Using this same method of modeling the process of taking a test, he scored three points higher in his next ACT. He was thrilled.

3. Testing Day Strategies

For a list of the six strategies to take a test successfully, email me at craft@central.com and I will send you that one-page document. Put “Testing Day Strategies” in the subject line.

You can make a huge difference in a student’s life, by showing him how to study for tests, by using both sides of his brain. It not only makes academics easier, but it carries over into so many different parts of their life. Enjoy making a difference!

Would you like to have your question featured on “Ask A Specialist?” Just email me, at craft@ecentral.com. I will not be able to publish all answers, but I will answer all questions personally, via email.

For free Daily Lesson Plans and articles on alternative teaching strategies, go to www.diannecraft.org. 

Biographical information

Dianne Craft has a Master's Degree in Elementary and Special Education and is president of Child Diagnostics, Inc. She has 25 years' experience teaching bright, hardworking children and teens who have to work too hard to learn. Dianne uses a "Three Pronged Approach" to eliminate learning blocks. To receive a Consultation (educational and nutritional) with Dianne and her staff, email her. To see the teaching products she has developed, go to her website and watch the YouTube clips. Her Right Brain Reading Program, Spelling, and Math products have helped thousands of children. www.diannecraft.org

Copyright, 2015. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, Fall 2015. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.


  1. . You can receive an example of Nicole’s notes by emailing: craft@ecentral.com. Put “Nicole’s Notes” in the subject line. Return to text.
  2. This method of studying and the transparencies we made can be seen in the “Teaching the Right Brain Child” DVD on my website [www.diannecraft.org]. Return to text.
  3. Email me and request these websites if you like, with the subject line: “Practice Tests.” Return to text.