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It's all in the mind


I am a classroom assistant and would like to train as a teacher. The only thing that makes me wonder if I would succeed is the numeracy test. I hate mental arithmetic - just thinking about it makes me break into a cold sweat. I watch pupils in the school where I work preparing for the mental arithmetic SATs and I feel for those who are frightened. Have you any suggestions that might help me and at the same time help the pupils I work with?


My answer is a general guideline for those undergoing some kind of mental arithmetic test: it is essential to practise the types of questions that are in the tests to increase your confidence. There are only so many ways a particular question can be asked. When you don't understand why a particular answer is correct, or can't do a certain type of question, approach a colleague for help.

During teacher training you will find many students who feel they are in the same boat, so a support group will be fairly easy to create. Some will be good at certain types of question, so pick their brains as they probably have a good understanding of the concept. They will be only too willing to practise their teaching skills, especially before trying them out on pupils in school.

When you are presented with a question, pick out the most important bits of information and write them down, this way you won't have so much to remember.

There are some people who are "test phobic" and despite all strategies they just "blank out" in an exam. I once had a GCSE student who sought extra help as even after three attempts she had only gained a grade G. It turned out that part of her problem was this phobia you mention. I suggested that she tell her doctor about her problems. He recommended that she take a herbal remedy for six weeks before her exam. This made a terrific difference and she gained a B at intermediate and went on to gain A-level maths.

A friend told me an amusing story about having to sit a maths test when she was five years old and this gave rise to the following poem: A wasp of a test

A little girl of five

Tried to skive

As in the past her heart beat fast

Distraught at the thought

Of a maths test.

It's insane how much pain

Is employed to avoid

A maths test.

Lesley, afraid

Of missing the grade,

Looked for a pardon

Down in the garden.

She searched near and far

For a wasp for her jar.

In the morning she awoke

The wasp to invoke

Prodding its wing

For a really big sting.

Not very refined

It was on her behind,

'Cos she sat on it hard

Out in the yard.

It hurt like mad

But she wasn't sad!

This was very bold

For a five year old.

"Mummy, Mummy,"

She began to mewl,

"I've been stung by a wasp so I've got to miss school."

But her mum wasn't silly.

She rang Mr Tilly.

They spoke for a while. She rang off with a smile.

"The school says 'it's OK' if you're off for a day I"

It's insane how much pain

Is employed to avoid

A maths test.

Then after all that pain

The demons were slain:

Back at school with the rest

She had to do the test

In the naughty room

Where she'd meet her doom.

As in the past her heart beat fast

Distraught at the thought

Of a maths test.

It's insane how much pain

Is employed to avoid

A maths test.

Her face just sagged And her steps they lagged,

Her heart going boom

On the way to the room.

She looked at the page

For what seemed an age,

"I'll get it done quickly,"

She thought quite sickly.

Her brain started working

So she forgot the fears lurking.

She needn't have worried

As she got all flurried,

This maths test was her very best.

"Well done, my dear,

See, there's nothing to fear."

Lesley now has a smile

And won't run a mile

From a maths test.

It's insane how much pain

Is employed to avoid

A maths test.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses. your questions to Mathagony Aunt at write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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