My least favorite days in the classroom are test days. I hate seeing students all jittery. I hate sitting around and doing nothing. I get anxious too. (A test for my students is a test of me!)

But what comes a close second in terms of badness is the day before a test. Students are freaked out, and prone to asking the most annoying question: “is this going to be on the test?” I always cringe.

The hardship comes from having a gaggle of students each wanting to cover different topics. Each with their own individual questions, many of which are nuanced.

Today, I actually had a great time doing my reviews. I think all my students got something out of it. I considered doing a game, I considered having presentations, I considered just going through problems. Instead, I did the most simple thing: handed out a set of 10 problems. [1]

My instructions were simple. Do NOT work in order. Pick the problem that you are most scared of, that you don’t understand well, that you least want to see on the test. Then use today to learn how to do it. Look at your notes, ask your neighbors, ask me. Once you’ve mastered that, move to the next most difficult problem.

I wrote the complete solutions to each of the problems on index cards and placed them at the front of the room. When students wanted to check their answers, they just walked up. I circulated, and spent most of my time giving one-on-one help to students. Or telling students who wanted help to ask the person next to them.

And then I posted all the solutions (scanned on) online, for students to reference at home. (Most of them couldn’t finish all the problems in class.)

I didn’t catch anyone — in all three classes — off task. The students were earnestly engaged. And that made me feel awesome. My kids rock.

[1] My favorite question from my calculus review was a concept question: “Explain in words (and if you want, using a diagram), why doesn’t make any sense mathematically.”

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Excellent idea…my midterm is coming up in 20 days and I think I will try it. Thanks for sharing.

The log of a negative number does make sense mathematically.

It just doesn’t make sense in real analysis.