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Blueroses's avatar

How can I help somebody build academic confidence?

Asked by Blueroses (18236points) September 16th, 2011

I’m tutoring a fellow student and she’s improving greatly. When we work together, she has a good grasp of the material and only needs a few nudges to get her in the right direction for problem solving. Her brain knows this stuff.

Tests are another matter though. She’s failed 3 exams, including a retake (though the score was better, it was still not passing). I know she’s crippling herself with anxiety and I feel so badly for her crying every night because she feels “stupid”.

If it isn’t the material itself, does anybody have any ideas for things I could do to help boost her self-esteem and gain confidence?

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21 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Have you been able to see the tests? Sometimes people/children do not read the question well. This was happening to a very close friend of mine’s daughter in math. She called me because I am the math one out of all of us friends from college. Seems many of the children in the class were doing badly in math. Anyway, as we went over the test I realized every time a question was worded in the negative, like which one of these numbers is NOT even, she got it wrong. Or, if a question said the opposite of what is customary, for example: put these numbers in order from highest to lowest. If all the practice problems were lowest to highest, she would get it wrong on the test. Even then my girlfriend was still seeing it as a math problem, and I told her, no it is a test taking problem. Unfortunately this teacher was very keen on throwing these types of questions at the children. Just a thought.

Blueroses's avatar

Yes @JLeslie. I have seen that part of her issue is learning how to solve a particular problem but not being able to identify the same information when the question is worded differently.

Are there any kinds of exercises, not necessarily in this specific subject, that help build that skill?

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses Practice would be my best answer. And, making your student aware that her mistake is not her knowledge of the subject, but reading the question. I would not present it as a mistake of course, but as a test taking skill that many people get tricked by. Which is completely true.

You have to figure out if it is a comprehension problem, meaning she really does not understand what the question is asking when it is worded differently, or if she just didn’t read the question well period. Some kids when they think they know the answer right away, never finish reading the whole question.

Do your best not to label her, or let her be labeled as a bad test taker. In fact, I would not focus on whether she is nervous or not if the problem is simply figuring out the question asked. Unless she is already voicing that she is very nervous of course, then you have to acknowledge it.

How old is your student?

Blueroses's avatar

She’s older than I am. In her 30s. But this is her first educational experience since high school. She’s already identified herself with those negatives you mention so I guess, that’s the issue to deal with. Building her confidence skill sets and overcoming what she perceives about herself.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses Both are an issue. I got my real estate license in my 30’s with many other adults in that class and I can’t tell you how many did not read the question thoroughly or froze up. There was a class to help with the exam that taught test taking tips, it was very good.

Is she taking multiple choice or essay exams?

JLeslie's avatar

Does she run out of time?

wundayatta's avatar

xanax

not kidding, either

Blueroses's avatar

It’s a mathematics course. The exams are not timed and they are taken on the computer with multiple choice answers. You have to do the calculations on paper and then choose the answer.
She can understand the formulas and has no issues with the actual calculations, it’s identifying the parts of the question when it is in story form. She can do that in the practice and in quizzes where the problems are all similar, but her knowledge gets all scrambled with a new set of information even though the concepts are the same. It’s not a matter of not reading carefully. If anything, she reads too carefully and tries to incorporate extraneous information from the problems.

@wundayatta, that very well might help but it’s not something I can do.

wundayatta's avatar

My daughter is taking algebra 2 or something, and last night she was saying how she hated… absolutly HATED word problems. I told her they were supposed to make the problems more relevant to real life, but she said she would much rather they were just numbers.

JLeslie's avatar

Yeah, word problems can be a bad thing in my opinion for young children. It actually makes me angry, because kids who have incredible math ability get turned off to math if their reading comprehension isn’t very strong. The powers at be decided about 20 years ago that they should do more math word problems at younger ages so hopefully children would be able to do them better in general. I hate the idea.

But, back to the adult student. Xanax is not a terrible idea, but I am not sure if it is just nerves. When you tutor her, are you sure she is able to do problems on her own? Or, is she memorizing?

Blueroses's avatar

Personally, I like word problems. I know that puts me in the minority. Most adults turn green when you mention story problems in math.
In this particular course, it is essential to have real-life relevance because it doesn’t do any good to know technically how to figure out a standard ratio if you can’t apply it to a situation like “The doctor ordered 300mg of x drug for the patient. The drug label on the vial says 4g in a 1:1000 solution. How much will you draw up in the syringe?”
This student can do the math with a little help getting started across several different situations, so she isn’t memorizing but she isn’t internalizing the concepts either.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses So it’s for a medical assistant or nursing of some sort? Yeah, I hope she can figure out the problems. Although, she almost never will probably have to do any math actually. The syringe is marked to know how much is being drawn. Isn’t it? If she is studying pharmacy I am more worried.

Blueroses's avatar

No. It’s pharmacology.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses Wait, meaning she is going to be a pharmacist? Or a pharmacology class for becoming a nurse? I was not clear I don’t think, and now I am not sure about your answer.

Blueroses's avatar

Sorry. It’s Calculations for the Pharmacy Technician.

JLeslie's avatar

That does make me nervous. LOL. I still think as a tech she will not be figuring out body weight and dosage, but things that are difficult to screw up. I hope.

Honestly, real life is usually easier than learning a word problem in a book. The same person who cannot figure out how many ¼’s in a whole. Knows there are four quarters in a dollar. Go figure.

Blueroses's avatar

You have a really good point there. Like trying to get her to grasp multiplying and dividing decimals is difficult but she understands money just fine. But I’m a little worried too because the job, if you can pass the certification is interpreting scrips and orders and filling them correctly without supervision. That’s why I’m looking for ideas to get past brain blocks and self-sabotage.

JLeslie's avatar

It is? The techs fill without supervision?

Bellatrix's avatar

Does your university have a student services area? They may be able to come up with some practical solutions including perhaps alternative assessment. If she knows the stuff and it is really just exam anxiety that is preventing her from demonstrating she has the knowledge, there may be a way for her to be tested in a different format. I would get her to speak to someone there or in the disability services unit (not saying she is disabled, but they also work with people with both minor and major learning disabilities. They have ways around problems, we may not think of.

Blueroses's avatar

@JLeslie yes, the point of a competent technician is to be able to calculate and dispense or compound dosages without being babysat by the Pharmacist. The Pharmacist will double check before it goes out, but shouldn’t have to micromanage every step of the calculation. That would be inefficient staffing. (You know how if you’ve ever worked with training somebody, tasks take twice as long as just doing it yourself.)

@Bellatrix welcome back! The point of the course is to give the skills necessary to pass the national certification board test. The board isn’t going to make an assessment exception, the exam must be taken.

However, I am pretty sure, after working with this student 2 days in a row, that the issue isn’t test anxiety. It’s with being able to carry concepts from situation to situation. If I set up a problem, she can do the math. If I help her set up 2 problems, she can set up 100 more similar ones on her own. Go to review it the next day, and she can’t get started without help.

It’s frustrating for her. There’s some issue with retention and logical application. That’s why I’m looking for creative ways to help build connections.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blueroses I am just assuming there is always at least on pharmicist, and so if there is a complicated fill, the tech can double check. Most prescriptions are counting pills, being able to read the script, read the label, or reconstituting something. It seems to me the kind of mathematical ability you are talking about happens most often in hospitals where things are dispensed according to body weight, and the pharm staff is relied upon to do the math. I would hope the doctor or nurse double checks it. But, of course so many medication mistakes happen every year it is completely mind boggling. Seriously. But, I am just guessing about these things. I know when I have a medication question I speak to a pharmacist, not a tech.

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