It’s testing time

Ryan Mellon passed a big basketball test in January, when his two free throws in the final seconds h

Ryan Mellon passed a big basketball test in January, when his two free throws in the final seconds helped Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School to a 73-71 victory over Schenectady.

Mellon is now thinking about other challenges. Like other high school students in the Capital Region, he’s concerned about traditional June examinations that will test mastery of subjects such as English literature, American history, Spanish and biology.

The long days begin Thursday at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons. Mellon, a 17-year-old junior from Rotterdam Junction, plans to review old tests and go through his notebooks. He’ll book different subjects for different nights and employ some basketball savvy to his studies. “I stay up late, go to bed around 12:30,” he said. “For me, I’m better when I’m under pressure.”

Other teens will find ways to avoid pressure as the school year ends. They’ll stay up late, study with friends and find quiet places to focus on fiction and fractions.

Diane Shaw, director of the academic enrichment center at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., believes kids should have their heads in the courses for the entire year, and not try to cram chapters and notebooks into their heads the night before.

“There’s a definite strength in the obvious, in terms of getting normal amounts of rest,” said Shaw, who is also an adjunct professor of psychology at Merrimack. “Eating, also. When I was in college, you grabbed whatever was in front of you, usually junk, and you grabbed it at the wrong time of day.”

Eat well and organize

Healthy foods before a test can help promote healthy performance during a test. Shaw also believes big helpings of books are not good for any student appetite that night before a final.

“From what we know of memory and learning theory, things stick with you longer if you think about them or study them in smaller, more meaningful chunks,” she said. The key is not to wait until the last night.

Shaw believes young people should not just read over words in their textbooks, and believe they understand the lesson. She gave an example: Her 16-year-old godson constantly plays the “Halo” video games, and she can ask him for a status report during a particular sequence. Shaw said she can repeat his answer verbatim — but won’t know what it means.

“I tell my students, ‘Think about what’s going on. What is that author trying to tell me?’” she said.

Organization is also key for exam weeks.

“You’d be surprised how many students fly by the seats of their pants,” Shaw said. “If you use a calendar, a PalmPilot or a NoteBook, what it gives you is a sense of control over the information you have, and it gives you a good, realistic sense of what is due and when. It could be tests; sometimes a teacher will substitute a big final paper instead of an exam. It helps to budget your time better when you have a sense of organization.”

Tips from teens

Teens from the ND-BG junior class have other ideas. Connor Dougherty, 17, of Burnt Hills, prefers to study by himself. He also prefers late nights, and the feeling he gets when the lights go off — he knows his material.

“I’d rather stay up and cram rather than go to bed and feel like I’m not prepared,” he said.

Celeste Hudson’s routine requires a quiet place.

“I think it’s really good, if you have something you really need to learn, to really get a quiet place and sit down and try to focus just on that,” said Hudson, 16, who lives in Schenectady. “I know it’s really difficult, with lots of distractions this time of year … so I think: focus.”

For Hudson, that means music at a low volume.

“I like to have material right in front of me,” she added. “I think the Internet is a great resource, but if I’m on the Internet, sometimes I’ll get distracted. If there’s a good study guide or something, I’ll have it printed out so it’s in front of me and I can mark it up.”

Monika Drzymalski, 17, of Niskaynua, is an advocate for silence.

“I have to really get in the mind-set of studying for whatever subject I’m going to take,” she said. “I can’t have any music, I can’t have any distractions from any little thing or my mind will just go wandering.”

If Joe Sise, 16, of Amsterdam, is studying for a math final, he’s with other people. He said numbers are not his best subject, and he understands material better when discussion is part of the review.

A big breakfast is also part of his exam day game plan.

“That’s every day,” he said.

Veronica Perez, 16, of Schenectady, also prefers reviews with other people, folks who know the subject better than she does.

“I like staying after with teachers more than just studying by myself,” she said, “especially if you don’t know the information. It’s easier to have a teacher kind of one-on-one, sitting with you, instead of reading a textbook.”

Focusing at home

Parents can’t help their children during the tests, but they can help the night before. Stephanie Vozza, founder of family-oriented Web site The Organized Parent, believes finding ideal places to study inside the home help kids focus.

“Some children need total quiet and will work well at a desk in their room,” Vozza said. “Other children work better in a situation where there is someone nearby to answer questions or keep them in check. For some children, the light of a nearby window would be beneficial; other children would find a window very distracting.

Vozza also said parents should include school supplies their kids will need during study sessions. “The more times they need to get up from their work area, the more chances there are to get sidetracked,” she said.

English teacher Paul O’Brien, who began teaching literature at the former Notre Dame High School in 1967, will review basic themes and ideas as the middle of June approaches.

“You can’t read all the books now. It’s too late. You had to get involved. You had to read during the year, the quizzes, the tests,” O’Brien said.

Lewis also said teens should understand that a poor performance on an exam is not the end of the world. They can always re-take tests later.

Nerves will come before the test but will fade away.

“I have horrible test-taking nerves,” said Hudson. “I guess the best thing to think of in that case is once it’s over, you’re going to feel just such a sense of relief.”

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