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My nephew is 10 years old, he does not read the exam questions properly which leads to many mistakes although he knows the answer, what can I do ?

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    In what sense does he not read properly? Does he have dislexia? Does he have a hard time understanding the meaning? Or does he just skim over the text? Or is there a problem with presentation, e.g. to small or awkward font, to few space around the questions. Please specify.
    – Chrglmgl
    Commented Feb 26 at 21:50
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    Could you add some context (e.g. which country you're from, the education system)?
    – user103496
    Commented Feb 27 at 4:07
  • "First you read the entire exam and you see if there is any question you don't understand. Only after that you start answering the questions. You didn't do what I say? Then don't ever bother crying to me for your bad points!"
    – Dominique
    Commented Feb 27 at 11:52
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    Out of curiosity, if you ask him questions verbally, does he listen to the question or give answers that don't exactly address what was being asked? (I've definitely known adults that would do this - I know a few people who have a strong tendency to, for example, answer the question they think you should have asked or answer a question that's very much like what was asked but not the actual question you were asking). Commented Feb 27 at 15:23
  • I don't know how to help, but I can share a little personal story. I could recite the standard faulty "proof" that 2=1 when I was 9. I self-taught trig and derivatives from my dad's old high school math book when I was 12. I have a master's in algebraic geometry. I have always loved math, and always been pretty decent at it. When I was 12, my class had a math test. My dad still, to this day, teases me about that test with "You know, when the big hand points to 12, and the little hand points to 3, what time is it?". The issue got better on its own eventually.
    – Arthur
    Commented Feb 28 at 13:02

7 Answers 7

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In primary school, there's three major things kids are learning:

  1. Key underlying concepts/ways of thinking that will make learning more "adult" concepts possible later.
  2. Study/work habits.
  3. Social behavior

It sounds like your nephew is okay on 1., but is deficient in 2., study/work habits. Assuming you're in position to help him here (I don't know your relationship with him/the parents/etc.), things you can do to help:

  • Practice reading the question fully. A good way to do this is with "trick questions" - if for example this is for math, there's lots of examples online of trick math questions (as some people find them fun!).
  • Work with him on more complex questions. Maybe he finds the work boring? Then consider doing some logic type questions that do require really reading the question to understand the answer.
  • If he finishes the exam early, get him in the habit of going back over it, instead of handing it in early. Maybe he feels time pressure! Answer all the questions in one pass, then with no time pressure look them each over again to see if he got them right.
  • If he is someone affected by external rewards - set up a reward system.
  • Practice reading the exam questions. Do an exam at home where you read the questions out loud before he does the exam. Do an exam at home where he has to read all of the questions out loud.

Finally, two suggestions:

  • Talk to the teacher and get suggestions there. The teacher probably is aware that he knows the material.
  • Talk to you nephew and see what he thinks will help. He's 10 - that's old enough to have some ideas here! He may appreciate the consideration.

I've worked with quite a few kids who have this issue - both of mine, for one, but I also work with math-interested kids in an after school program, and plenty of them make these kinds of mistakes. Focusing on checking work and on carefully reading the questions is a really valuable thing for later in life - I can't tell you the difference between an employee who reads the instructions carefully and one who skims over them and assumes they know the answer!

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    Anecdotally, I did not get the point of reading through questions from front to back until around 10 years old, when a problem sheet given by a teacher explicitly listed out a huge list of directions, then at the end gave a very short instruction to complete - so I can vouch for the value of a practical example for why it is important to read all the directions first.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Feb 26 at 14:39
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    I don't have kids, but I definitely was similar to OP's kid at that age. One other bullet point I may humbly suggest: the child may not care much. When I was that age, I knew when I knew the answer... and proving it to the teacher wasn't always a top priority. This is related to the "maybe he finds the work boring" aspect, but is also slightly different. Unfortunately, I don't remember how I got past that.
    – yshavit
    Commented Feb 26 at 20:23
  • An easy way to show the value of following instructions is a test along the lines of How Well Can You Follow Directions Test. Commented Feb 28 at 17:18
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    Joe, kids don’t learn social behavior in school. They learn how to endure unchosen associations. Commented Mar 5 at 1:38
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Get him tested for ADHD/ADS

Yes I know "everyone has it" these days and what not but what you describe (skimming over questions) fits in 100%.

Oh and even if he's an otherwise rather quiet kid that "doesn't show any other symptoms": That's very easily possible as well, the clichés don't hold all-around and even 10 year old kids can be quite skilled at masking the more negatively-received obvious symptoms.

A negative test would land you back here but would at least rule out this possible necessity for different treatment. And a positive diagnosis would open up a completely new field of advice, tipps and strategies to help him deal with the issues he's facing.

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Test for dyslexia

It's often found in people with ADHD, but it can be in anyone. He may not be reading the question properly in the first place.

If you do ADHD testing, they probably also do dyslexia testing. It's worth having it looked at.

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Kids have multiple ways of learning (visual, auditory, kinetic) and multiple ways of expressing (same.) Some kids for any number of reasons do better in s non traditional test taking situation. Some do better having the question read to them and giving on oral answer. Talk or have his patents to the teacher and discuss strengths and relative weaknesses in his style of learning. It could be something classic like ADHD or it could be something else that just requires more skills such as answer contributor one addressed. Don't hesitate going up the ladder tho. Teacher to principal to district if u need to. School districts have psychologists who can also test for neurodivergent types if learning. If a child is seen by a private educational psychologist the school can still utilize the evaluation outcome.

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Teach the kid exactly the skill you want the kid to have - namely, spotting errors of understanding.

Don't give the kid questions on problem X. Give the kid questions and answers, where the answer misunderstood the question, and get the kid to find the mistake.

Similarly, give the kid a pile of questions that they know are misleading and have them find the trick.

Naturally you start with modeling before you get them to work on it - give them questions and answers that misunderstand and someone pointing out the misunderstanding. Give them misleading questions, with someone pointing out how they are misleading. This step is easy to think you can skip, but it really does make the problem easier.

Don't ask the kid "did you check for misunderstandings?" - make the kid good at spotting misunderstandings, and then the kid will do it themselves because the effort will be much lower and the habit will be built in.

For mathematics in particular, one of the points of mathematics isn't figuring out what the answer is but proving that is the answer to the person reading it, so that the reader doesn't have to know the answer is right to be convinced.

A lot of mathematics education doesn't stress this nearly enough in my opinion. "Show your work" isn't about convincing the teacher that the kid isn't cheating, it is providing the evidence that the answer is right by showing the path to get there. And if you are showing your work in a mathematics answer, you are going to be referring back to the question in the answer in order to show that the answer actually answers the question. A misunderstood question should show up like a bright flag.

Reframing math answers as: "You are trying to convince some reader who doesn't now how to do the math what the answer is. They can follow along an check each tiny steps, but they can't do any leaps." might provide motivation.

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As if you don't have enough to think about... if some of the other suggestions don't seem to help, please consider if it is possible your nephew has a reading difficulty that might be more apparent in the stress or haste of reading exam questions. Reading is an amazingly complex skill of muscle and brain coordination even though it seems simple. Many subtle problems can develop, just as they do in speech (or gymnastics, etc.) and most can be corrected once they are detected. At least in the US, you can't rely on the customary school vision tests - they only detect a small fraction of vision/reading problems.

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TL;DR The test is testing something different than your nephew (and you?) think it does.

Tests are not just testing the knowledge of the covered material, they are also testing meta-knowledge about testing itself. For example:

  1. Can this person follow detailed instruction?
  2. Can this person clearly communicate to another human being through the medium of writing that they have knowledge of the material being covered?
  3. (For the cynical) Can this person "tune" their ingestion of the material for easily digestible compartmentalized chunks of information that are likely to show up on a test by virtue of being easy to test for?

This is possibly a good part of why even though ability in a specific subject might vary (e.g. good at Language Arts, bad at Math or vice-versa) for a given student their grades tend to be well-correlated across subjects.

If your nephew (or you) believe that testing is about whether or not he understands the subject matter...well, you're not wrong per se but there is more to it than that.

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