How Parents Should React to Math Tests

Mar 14, 2018 | Naperville

Your reaction (even a positive one) to your child’s math test may create problems.

Izzy didn’t like bringing home her weekly math tests, even when she did well. She usually threw the tests away before her parents could see them. When she got a 90% or higher, they told her how smart she was and gave her a small reward. When she didn’t get a high grade, they gave her a hug and said, “Next week will be better. Just study a little extra.” Her parents thought they were being supportive.

The problem was that after getting a high score, she felt extra pressure to do well to live up to the pressure of being “smart” and “good at math.” She wondered why her parents thought she was smart, when she had to work so hard to get good grades in math. Sometimes, even when Izzy studied for hours, she still ended up with a C. Studying extra just didn’t seem to make that much difference and then she felt stupid. After all, if she gets labeled “smart” because she gets a good grade, she figured she must not be that smart if she can’t get high scores consistently. Her parents had no idea that their form of praise and encouragement only confused her more. What could they have done differently?


Praise the Learning not the Score

In our score-based society, it can be hard to remember that the score on the math test only reflects current learning and understanding of a topic. It is not a statement that your child is “good at math” and “smart” nor that they are “bad at math” and “dumb.” The very idea that a person can be bad at math is refuted in the book Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler.  Children who consistently score poorly on math tests need a different approach. Check out our very own Mathnasium Method. Children like Izzy, whose math scores are inconsistent probably have some learning gaps, making it difficult to progress.

When a child comes home from school with a high score on a math test, and you want to celebrate, fine. Be sure to emphasize you are celebrating your child’s learning and the effort. If your child didn’t really work hard to earn the score, you may want to hold off on the celebration. Instead, it may be time to discuss ways to find challenges in math. Not learning is boring.   

Celebrating Scores that didn’t take Effort is Meaningless and Potentially Harmful.

Getting praised for doing something easy almost feels like cheating. It perpetuates the false notion that innate talent doesn’t need to be nurtured and supported with hard work and trying different approaches.

What do Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, The Beatles, and Walt Disney have in common? None of them were successful the first time they tried their career, they had an incredible work ethic, and they kept trying new strategies to achieving their goal. If they had celebrated easy tasks, they may never have reached their potential. Don’t limit your child’s potential by celebrating a meaningless score. Inspire your child to reach beyond the material in the test and use math creatively. Find some math puzzles that focus on creative thinking. At Mathnasium of Naperville, we have a lot of creative math games and puzzles for students. You can also look at the links to websites,and  for puzzle ideas.


How to React When the Score Isn’t Very High

Simply say, “We need to find a different way to learn this material so it makes sense to you.” Then create an action plan to help your child with the material. Studying for longer isn’t always the answer! Take a step back and look at the real problem. Talk with your child and see what insights he or she has. Schedule a no-risk assessment with us to see what gaps exist in your child’s learning that may be holding him or her back. Math concepts build on previous skills. Can you imagine trying to learn to do a cartwheel before learning to walk? We shouldn’t expect children to learn algebra if they haven’t mastered basic arithmetic.

Remember tests don’t measure the children’s aptitude. Aptitude and potential are impossible to measure because a person’s effort and mindset can dramatically affect it.  If your child is struggling to score well on math tests, consider it an opportunity for growth. Improving is exciting and fun. But improvement requires real effort and must be done systematically. Our curriculum is structured to be individually paced so children feel success, no matter where they start.


Never Give the Impression that you are Satisfied with Mediocre Effort

You can celebrate every math test as an opportunity to grow or for learning something very difficult. Children who can bring home a test without fear of judgement from failure, or expectation for success will focus on the learning rather than the score. They will have the freedom to learn how to apply themselves and tackle really difficult problems.

At Mathnasium of Naperville, we never give up until we find the approach that makes sense to your child. That’s why our motto is, “We Make Math Make Sense.” At our center, there is no pressure of a grade. It is all about the learning.


For inspiration read, Get Inspired in Math with the Stories of 3 Olympians



Call Aparna Pai at 630-219-0505 today to learn more about the Mathnasium Method.

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