January 9, 2024

Time can be on your side: Gaining comfort and competence when time is a factor

By Rachel Marcus, Learning Specialist

Completing timed tasks can feel daunting for many students, especially for students who struggle with executive functioning. Timed tasks can feel crippling, especially when it comes to a test or handing in a big project. Use these tips to help your child gain both comfort and competence when time is a factor:

  • Start with something familiar. Start by introducing timed activities in an area of strength or competency, a task that will be easy for the student to complete. If your child is physically inclined, then challenge them to see how many jumping jacks they can do in 1 minute. If your child is literacy-oriented, work together to see how many rhyming words you can write down together in a given timeframe. If seeing the hands tick by on the clock is anxiety-ridden, then you can just count to 60 Mississippi’s out loud to model the timed element.  
  • Play games with timers. There are a lot of great board and card games out there that involve timers, including Boggle, Scattergories and Perfection. Let your child experience the play element that comes along with racing the clock. And don’t be shy about modeling the fun factor by playing games right alongside your child. 
  • Talk about being “ready to learn.” Help your student prepare for a timed task by talking through what it means to be ready to learn in a focused way. What might your child’s physical space look like? Does he/she need a snack or drink of water first? What about a movement break? Make a checklist together and go through it collaboratively before starting a “sprint” activity of any sort. 
  • Allow the student to press start. Allowing the student to physically press the start button on a timer fosters ownership in the task. It can also help remove some of the anxiety that goes along with hearing a teacher or parent yell out “Go!” Put the ball in the student’s court, saying, “When you feel ready, go ahead and press start.” 
  • Emphasize progress. Try to structure activities in a way where students are challenged to do their best in a given timeframe. For example, you might say, “How many math problems on this page can you do in 2 ½ minutes?” If the student can only get 20 out of 40 completed on the first go, that’s okay. Emphasize their hard work and focus. This is foundational for building growth mindset. Help your child visually graph their progress over time so that they can clearly engage in progress monitoring. It’s not so much about the end result; That is, it’s okay if they don’t get 40 out of 40 correct, even on the final go. The fact that they might have improved over time from getting 20 to, say, 35 done in the 2 ½ minutes is significant, and cause for celebration with your child. 
  • Build a training routine. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, starting with relatively easy jogs and working your way up to longer and more arduous runs. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to take a timed test without a plan to practice, build automaticity and increase stamina over time. Make a plan with your child to practice for 10 or 20 minutes a day and talk about what that practice time might look like. Would going through daily flashcards be helpful? What about reteaching the content to you out loud? Explicitly name these as study strategies for your child early on, so they start to concretely understand what it means and looks like to study. Creating a study plan helps your child practice planning and time management, two important executive function skills. 
  • Teach explicit test-taking strategies. Being a good test taker is partly about knowledge, and partly about test-taking acumen. Teach students basic test-taking approaches including: skip and come back to a problem, process of elimination, working through problems out of order, brain dumping formulas/key facts at the top of the page and skimming through the whole test before diving in.