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Taking a test can be a breeze for some students but a huge source of stress for others. Even students who study hard might still get bad grades, leaving many parents wondering “why does my child do poorly on tests?”. It could depend on the subject, the teacher, or the testing process itself. Standardized tests used in the curriculum are designed for the average student. But every child is unique and has a different learning style that may not be suited to traditional testing methods.

If your child studies hard but gets bad grades on tests, there might be an underlying reason—or several—that prevents them from doing well.

Reasons Students Get Poor Grades

Taking a test is much different than completing a homework assignment. Homework allows your child to work at their own pace and soak in what they’re learning. A test has a time limit and there is more pressure on the student to do well.

Reasons students get failing grades on tests vary from child to child but there are some common factors that could be contributing to it.

  1. Poor Study Habits
  2. Studying effectively is the first step to ensuring test success. If your child is studying inefficiently or infrequently, it could be hurting their ability to learn, process, and remember information. Studying while there are distractions or a tendency to procrastinate are common poor study habits that need to be addressed.

    Experiment with different study methods to see what effect they have on your child’s test scores. Group study or learning by teaching are common methods to try out. Remove distractions like smartphones, loud music, or move your child to a less busy study space.

  3. Lack of Organization
  4. Poor organization and time management skills often mean your child isn’t studying effectively before a test, leading to poor grades. In many cases, this is because your child isn’t covering the material properly or just not leaving themselves enough time to study.

    To get your child on track, create a test plan with:

    • A study schedule with enough time to cover everything thoroughly
    • Textbook and materials that need to be studied
    • Which parts of the class material they need more help on before the test
    • A list of what’s needed on the day of the test (protractor, study sheet, highlighters, etc.)
  5. Lack of Confidence
  6. If your child isn’t confident in their abilities it can severely impact grades and test scores. For example, while they’re taking a test they could second-guess themselves, taking up test time and choosing the wrong answers. If this is happening, the first step is to figure out why your child is not feeling confident. Have they done poorly on a test in this subject before? Have they not studied thoroughly enough?

    It’s important to encourage your child and help them build confidence by addressing their worries. If they did poorly on the last test in that class or haven’t studied enough, work with them through the study process for the next test. If they know the material, they will go into the test feeling better and choose the correct answer without second-guessing.

  7. Test Anxiety
  8. Being a little nervous before a test is okay. In fact, studies show that a little bit of anxiety helps improve performance on a lot of things including tests. It allows your child to really focus on what’s in front of them.

    But too much anxiety can cause your child to make mistakes or shut down completely. Test anxiety happens when your child is feeling too much pressure to do well or finish the test on time. This causes them to feel overwhelmed and forget what they’ve learned, leading them to do poorly on the test (even if they studied hard).

    Addressing test anxiety can happen in phases. First, talk to your child to work out how they’re feeling about the test and why they feel that way. Next, determine whether you can help address their concerns. If it’s outside your ability to address, talk to your child’s teachers, guidance counselors, or a mental health professional. They can help you form a plan to help your child overcome their anxiety.

  9. Learning Difficulties
  10. Learning difficulties like ADD/ADHD and dyslexia can affect test performance. If your child studies hard but is still not doing well on tests, there could be an underlying learning difficulty. Your child may not be able to understand the test questions, have trouble focusing, or be distracted by other students. This could make them unable to perform their best.

    If you think your child is experiencing learning difficulties, work with your child’s teacher to work out what’s going on. Once the difficulty is understood, work with your child’s school to accommodate your child’s needs. It could be more time to complete the test, dyslexia-friendly printed materials, or a quiet space to do the test.

  11. Trouble Communicating
  12. Translating thoughts into words can be more difficult for some more than others. Even if your child studies hard and understands the material, they may not be able to communicate it effectively, especially during a test.

    Dysgraphia is a relatively common issue that some children (and adults) face when writing, characterized by:

    • Trouble organizing ideas and thoughts while writing
    • Poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation
    • A slow, sloppy writing process
    • Frustration and aversion to writing

    Students who experience dysgraphia can be helped with longer test times, providing examples to follow, or breaking the writing process into steps with instructions.

    To help your child adapt to this challenge, teach them habits that can help throughout their school years. Create a plan to map out ideas before putting them on to paper to help your child organize their thoughts and communicate them more effectively. If the issue is more severe, work with a reading specialist to guide your child through dysgraphia challenges.

  13. Slow Processing Time
  14. For some students reading information, processing it, and responding to it can take a little longer. When your child is completing a homework assignment, they have more time to process information. During a test they may struggle to read the questions, understand them, and respond. This means they might not be able to complete the test in the allotted time.

    Slow information processing can be helped by working with your child’s teacher to give your child more time and a quiet place to complete the test.

Find What Works Best For You And Your Child

Some causes of poor test scores can be addressed at home. Help your child better prepare for tests through building good study habits, boosting confidence, and organized planning.

Some causes may need to be addressed jointly with your child’s school, individual teachers, or learning specialists to ensure your child is set up for success.

If your child isn’t performing well on tests, Scholars is here to help. We offer tutoring in all subjects in the K-12 curriculum and can help your child succeed. Find a tutor near you to request a free trial hour of tutoring!


Dr. Danielle, PhD


May 13, 2020