MANHATTAN — The test preparation industry is booming in anticipation of the coming Common Core exams and curriculum, but there are many simple — and free — ways worried parents can help prepare their kids for the tougher tests.
The new exams target critical thinking more than previous tests have done, and students can expect them to include more reading and writing. In math, for instance, it is no longer sufficient to get the right solution — it’s also crucial to be able to explain how you arrived at that answer.
"The shift was made to ensure that all students were college ready,” said Jamie Platzer, a third grade teacher at East Harlem's DREAM charter school and tutor with Teachers Who Tutor, which recently began offering services specifically tailored to the new Common Core standards.
“Accordingly, we are asking them to think critically as early as in kindergarten," she said. "In general, when parents ask how to best prepare their children for the Common Core the answer is to help their children to think more deeply and critically about everything they do.”
DNAinfo New York spoke with experts from popular test preparation companies who gave their top tips that parents and students can use everyday.
For the ELA (English Language Arts tests):
1. Read books with your child and ask questions that prompt deeper thinking
Many experts suggested reading to your child or, for independent readers, pre-reading the same chapter as your child.
“Rather than asking ‘What happened in this book?,’ ask, ‘What is the lesson the author is teaching in this book?’” Platzer advised. “Instead of simply asking ‘What did the characters do?’ you can ask, ‘Why did the characters act the way they did and what does that tell the reader about the characters?’ Encourage your child to give specific examples from his book to support his answers.”
Platzer also suggested reading two books by the same author and having your child note the similarities and differences.
2. Read interesting newspaper articles with your child and discuss the pieces’ goals on the walk to school
“The goal might be to determine the argument the writer is making — good for an op-ed — or simply to identify the problem that the author is writing about,” Platzer said. “As the child reads, she should jot notes to keep track of thinking. Your child can then write about what she reads or tell you as you walk somewhere — even to school in the morning.”
3. Have your child write a letter to someone filled with details and dialogue
“The more comfortable your child is with writing, the better, so get him writing about anything to anyone,” Platzer said.
4. Encourage analytical thinking when talking to your child about pop culture
“Writing requirements will be more analytical under Common Core standards,” said TestingMom.com co-founder Karen Quinn. “Encouraging your child to come up with concrete evidence to support her opinions in real life will be helpful. For example, ‘I prefer Harry Potter books to the Hobbit books because the main characters in Harry Potter books are young kids going to school like me.’”
5. Turn walking into a game of adding and subtracting
“When walking on the street you can ask how many more blocks it will take to get where you are going,” Platzer advised.
She suggested parents make up fun problems, such as, if you start at 82nd Street and have already walked 18 blocks downtown, how many more blocks do you have to go to get to 42nd Street?
6. Take out your wallet: Use money to make up math problems
“Money is a great way to work with children,” Platzer said. “Instead of simply asking how much money you have when looking at a collection of coins, push your child's thinking.”
She gave examples: “You can ask your child: 'I have $1.23 in my pockets. If I have 65 cents in one pocket, how much is in the other pocket? Or, if I have 76 cents how much more money do I need to have $5?'"
7. Use the clock
Instead of simply asking your child what time it is, use the clock to prompt math problems.
“‘Look at the clock. If you have to be at school at 8 a.m., how much time do you have to get to school?’” Platzer suggested as a sample question. Or “'Look at the clock. If I have 1 hour and 28 minutes to get to school, what time does school start?’”
8. Turn family dinner into math games
"Under Common Core standards, students will be asked to use math in real world situations,” Quinn said. “If you can talk about fractions based on how much of a cake or pizza was eaten at a family dinner, this will help your child with the test.”
Parents can talk to their kids about measurements when cooking, suggested Suzanne Rheault, CEO and founder of Aristotle Circle.
“Do not underestimate the importance of reviewing measurements,” she said. “You want to have imprints on their memory. ‘If I’m weighing a pound, how much would I weigh in kilograms,’ you could ask. Or if there’s a feather, ‘How much would that weigh?’ Or ‘How many cups is in a pint or in a gallon?'”
General testing advice
9. Make sure a child reads all the answers before responding to a multiple choice question
"Before you answer, read all of the choices,” Rheault said. “Think what is the ‘best’ answer and know there might also be a ‘good’ answer. The better answer is typically later [not A or B]. This is where they get the kids, specifically in reading comprehension.”
That trips kids up especially toward the end of the tests, when students are tired, Rheault said.
10. Let your son or daughter know not to panic
"If a child is so sensitive and has anxiety, they could stop taking the whole test," Rheault said. "A lot of times that happens with really smart kids. What are things we can do if you don’t know the answer? No. 1, take a deep breath."
She advised parents to let their kids know this is only one test. Tell children, "'I know how smart you are,'" she said. "'It may not be all you — sometimes the teachers don’t cover it.'"
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Morris Cohen offers advice on how to talk to children about test results here.