Why students fail pace tests

…and how to help them find success!

I just had two students on the verge of failing their PACE tests in Biology this week. I had a “chat” with them about why they were struggling, and how to study in order to do well on the test. The one girl was quite concerned that she had worked through the whole PACE but didn’t understand it. I decided that I should take my frequently repeated pep-talk and turn it into an article to help other students. I also made a video out of it.

  1. You need to realize that the PACE tests get progressively harder as you move up in the grades. The PACE test questions in the lower grades are almost identical to the Self Test questions in wording and layout. Not so in the high school. Students have to learn the content of the entire statements in the check-ups and Self-tests because the question may be totally changed around on the PACE test. A key word that supplied on the Self-test question may be the missing word in the PACE test question. What had been in a multiple choice section in the PACE, might be fill-in-the-blank on the test. Students in graded 7 and 8 will begin to notice this change, but Biology and World Geography are dramatic. (See my article: Why are the elementary PACES so easy?)
  2. When a student fails a test, we make it a habit to go back and do a scoring “audit.” Many times we will find that the student had wrong answers in his PACE that he never marked wrong! So that means he was learning the wrong content and not getting the correcting feedback. It is a good practice if a student misses a question, especially on a check-up or self-test, to go back in the PACE and find the answer and highlight it.
    Nine things you should not allow your student to do
    Seven rules to get off to a good start
    students don’t do what you expect – only what you inspect
  3. Cheating will cause failure. If a student has been looking back while taking check-ups and the Self-test (which is cheating), then they will not have studied and mastered the material for the test. Each check-up and the Self-Test should be treated as a “test,” which means a student should study first, then do the “test” under supervision, without being able to look back. (See my article – Cheating? Not MY child!)
  4. If a student is just trying to race through the PACE with as little effort and thinking as possible, he will not be able to do well on the PACE test. Memory is the residue of thinking! Some students “cram” well enough to get 100% on the Self-Test but they don’t really know the material – just the words for the blanks on that specific lay-out. A good study technique is to go back after completing a science or history PACE and re-read all the content pages. Have a study partner ask the Check-up questions again before attempting the Self-Test.
  5. Students often assume they will know that material by just having completed the PACE, or maybe having just read over the Self-Test before handing it in. It is a rare student who has such a good photographic memory that such a technique will earn them a high grade on the PACE test.
  6. Students don’t want to take the time and effort to memorize the names, dates, unusual vocabulary, terms, and lists that are needed for success. There is no easy way, but we give some ideas in this video for using Mnemonic devices, study guides, diagrams, and other study tools to master the content. There is a lot of content in science and history that needs to be memorized, not “understood.” Also, be sure students are actually reading the correct vocabulary words — often their brain substitutes a word that “looks” the same but has a totally different meaning!
  7. It is our job as parents and educators to make sure our students are following procedures, are engaging their minds in studying, and are prepared before attempting to take a PACE test. Though it is true that much of what students do with the PACES – especially teens – can be done independent of our direct interaction, our role is more as “Co-Pilot” rather than letting them be on “Auto-Pilot.” We should do some oral quizzing before we allow them to take a final test and help them study if they are not well prepared.
  8. If your child fails a PACE, the proper procedure is to have them work through a new copy of the PACE. But this second time through you should add “Accountability Stopping Points” at each check-up and before the Self-test – they are not allowed to do those “tests” without your permission after checking that they are indeed prepared. Take the time to quiz them and make sure they are ready this time. Teach them how to study. Verify that the scoring was done carefully. Clarify any concepts that are confusing.
  9. The high school years are a good opportunity for teens to learn how they learn. We call this “meta-cognition” – being aware of how our brain works. Teens need to learn that not all brains learn the same way. Some students really need verbal interaction. Some need to draw pictures and diagrams. Some tune in to word etymology (root words, prefixes, suffixes, etc) more and can connect easily to other words already in their vocabulary. Experiment with various methods; some will “click” and others will not. Continue to use the ones that work, even if they take more time and effort. (My video gives more ideas and examples.)
  10. Have you heard the old adage, “Repetition is the best teacher”? It is one of the Laws of Learning. The curriculum cycle has review and repetition built in. Each PACE’s check-up and Self-Test allow students to stop and review and practice recalling the answers. Be sure you capitalize on the review as a tool for learning and not by-pass it to find a short-cut.

Do you have other feedback about finding success with hard subjects or studying for PACE tests? Add them in the comments below so others can benefit, too!

2 Comments to “Why students fail pace tests”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m in Grade 12 and extremely behind in my PACE’s because I’ve been feeling very unmotivated(or motivated to not do my school), mostly because I haven’t seen the practical use of most subjects in my life and I have a hard time remembering subjects I don’t feel are of great use to me.

    1. You’re not alone! Boys in particular are prone to feel that way :-). Try some of these tips and see if you can see more success. Nothing breeds success like success!

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