What are the benefits of timing my child's work?

May 2012
Some children may struggle to stay on task unless they have a definitive period of time in which to work.

As children progress through school life they will be expected to complete a number of tasks under timed conditions. These can vary from a series of questions in a mental mathematics starter to completing their SATs tests.

A study conducted in the US by Pearson Education on how test performance was impacted by timed conditions concluded that:

"Although the differences were quite small and non-significant for the most part, all students tested under untimed conditions showed improved performance through grade 6. However, above grade 6, students actually performed slightly better under timed conditions."

Similarly, a Harvard Business School study on time pressure found that "time pressure really does seem to have an important impact on creativity." Here are some of the benefits that may arise as a result of timing your child's work:

Increasing focus
Some children may struggle to stay on task unless they have a definitive period of time in which to work. Setting time limits for activities may help them to draw out ideas that may have remained dormant in an undefined session.

Enhanced performance
Children may thrive under pressure and results from the Pearson study, such as Mathematics Procedures score of 14.9 untimed and 16.1 timed, seem to support this idea.

Time pressure can activate different parts of the brain
Research led by Japanese scientist Xiaohong Wan and published in Science, a leading scientific journal, on chess players found that those who strategised under time pressure activated the caudate nucleus, where goal-directed behaviour is rooted.

"This activation did not occur in the amateurs or when either group took their time in planning their next move," according to the study.

Increasing motivation
If children complete activities under timed conditions they may be motivated to improve their scores on subsequent occasions. Seeing that they have improved their times over a particular period may also improve their confidence in the subject.

Mastery of a subject
Mastery of a topic implies fluency, and that means not only being able to complete work accurately, but also quickly. Knowing the answer to '8x7' is one thing; being able to recall the answer immediately is quite another. Fluency, not just accuracy, is required if your child wishes to tackle more challenging work successfully.

Helping to prepare them for tests
Regularly timing children's work will help them to become familiar with exam conditions. This may translate to them being able to perform better under such conditions.