The Secret to Speed Tests Revealed, Part III

can't keep a Secret

In the first two parts of this series, The Secret of Speed Tests Part I and Part II, the discussion has focused on the logistics conducting weekly speed drills/Mad Minute. This post will focus on the critical element in doing speed drills, that is, providing immediate feedback.


Why do I believe this is so critical? Your students can do Mad Minute every week, but if there is no immediate feedback with their right and wrong responses, the brain can not re-create/strengthen the neural connections and move facts into long-term memory that create the speed and accuracy that we are trying to achieve.


The processes outlined in these posts were done with seventh grade students, so there will need to be adaptations for younger grades. However, the key is getting the students to see and recognize their correct and incorrect responses on their own. So, as you read through this post, compare with a traditional ‘process’ of a doing speed tests:


  • Students complete a speed test/speed drill and turn in to teacher
  • Teacher grades the test at the end of the day/during planning
  • Teacher hands the test back the next day and puts the final number correct on top of the page (or how many they missed)
  • Students sees how many they missed/got correct
  • Students jam speed test in folder/backpack/trashcan


What’s missing here? No real, corrective feedback: Students do not ‘study their results’ to determine what they missed and what they got correct. Neural connections will never be changed (for incorrect answers) or strengthened (or correct answers). Also, students will not remember what they scored on the last speed test, so they won’t know they are improving or not.


SO…how do we get feedback to the students? By Self-grading and charting their own results.

One side of the Mad Minute Sheets I used had the problems (which the students completed on their sheet protectors), and the opposite side had the problems completely solved. As soon as the minute was finished, students would self-grade their speed drills by flipping the sheet over (taking out the sheet from the protector) and comparing with their answers.


Mad Minute Sheet Problem Side


Mad Minute Sheet Answer Side


For grading, they counted each individual correct digit; that is, each digit in the partial products in the long multiplication problem. This gives a more accurate ‘fluency rate’ (correct digits/minute) value as some kids may only get 2 or 3 problems completed. This also allowed for more variance your final scores, so students can see small gains in their weekly drills.


I also believe it is important that these weekly drills are NOT part of a quiz/test/classwork grade. Therefore, there is no reason for them to grade incorrectly, because there is no ‘advantage’ by cheating on the grading. Additionally, by not requiring students to meet a standard, this allows them to grow at their own pace and not having additional pressure of not ‘scoring high enough’. I believe this also ‘allows students to fail’ with no consequences.


The second part of the immediate feedback was the Progress Graphs. After grading and determining their score, each student graphs their results. This is done over the entire school year; by plotting this score each week, students will see for themselves getting faster/more accurate.


Mad Minute results after a year; y-axis is number of correct digits, x-axis is date


Notice the points trend upwards after each date, dips in points when the Mad Minute sheet changes

It is also important to change the Mad Minute sheet once every three to four weeks. You can do this by going up to the next sheet or returning to a previous easier problem set, just so the students are not doing the same sheet too many times in a row. This also implements gradual increases in difficulty also required for building fluency.


So, doing speed drills as outlined in this series will meet the 5 Keys to Building Fluency:

  • Repetition
  • Time Constraints
  • Immediate Feedback
  • Allow for Failure
  • Gradual Increases in Difficulty.

In the next series of posts, I will discuss using Addition Blocks and Multiplication Blocks specifically for building fluency…

The Secret to Speed Tests Revealed, Part II

can't keep a Secret

The Secret of Speed Tests, Part I gave an overview of how I conducted the weekly (or near-weekly) “Mad Minute!” speed drill (not speed tests!). I did the Mad Minute every Friday as an opening activity/activating exercise, even if we were to have a quiz or test, and as I mentioned, the results were really amazing. This post will discuss the setup, processes, and student training used to conduct the Mad Minute activity.

As with anything done in the classroom, the preparation, organization, and training will make this process much easier on you, and more enjoyable for everyone.



Each student had “Class Folder” that stayed in the room, color-coded by period. In this folder, students kept class rules, worksheets, and other classroom handouts. They also kept their Mad Minute graph (see the previous post), so this sheet never got ‘lost’ or destroyed. These were simple two-pocket folders, and I got them for a few cents each at the back-to-school sales.

On the tables were cheap dry-erase markers, a small eraser for the markers, and the Mad Minute sheets in protectors (that the students could directly write on/erase off). Hint: Have PLENTY of dry erase markers handy! WalMart had a nice little set of cheap markers that had erasers on the ends.


Handy dry-erase markers found at Walmart!

I had 5 separate Mad Minutes sheets (easiest being ‘A’, the most difficulty being ‘E’) with problems on one side and the answers completely worked out on the reverse side. A single set of the Mad Minute Sheets where in a ‘Classroom Communicator‘ sheet protector.

classroom communicator

Sheet protectors to easily write on/erase off

Classroom Setup:

  • Agenda on the board listed the days’ Mad Minute Sheet (A-E)
  • Each table had a pair of dry-erase markers and erasers
  • Each table had the Classroom Communicator Sheet protectors with the drill sheets
  • Student leaders passed out Class Folders to each student (before class begins)

Training Points:

Train your KIDS! Once they know the process, this opening activity will be much easier to implement and go quickly and easily.


When your students enter the classroom, they are to:

  • Get the correct Mad Minute sheet in the Classroom Communicator sheet protector
  • Get a marker ready to use. Make sure it works! (Vital for your sanity…)
  • Tell the teacher immediately if your marker does not work.

When Mad Minute is complete:

  • Self-grade their test by counting each correct digit (including partial sums in standard multiplication)
  • Update their graphs
  • Erase their work on their sheet protector
  • Put away the marker, eraser, and sheet protector/Mad Minute sheet (kept at the end of their table).
  • Sit silently until everyone else is finished

In Part 3, I will go into more detail about the self-grading and updating of the graphs.

Attitude (That is, YOUR attitude!)

So much of what I wanted for my students was just to be better at math and enjoy ‘doing’ math. As I have mentioned many times, math fluency is so important for their future achievement.


    • (You!) Be excited about the Mad Minute. Hey, your kids are going to get faster and better at adding and multiplying (or whatever you are drilling)! I would say something like, “I love mad minute, I can see you getting better each time we do this”. I know that not every one of your students will enjoy the Mad Minute. But their attitude is dependent on your attitude!
    • Privately celebrate small successes with a student– “Hey, your point jumped up this week, Awesome!” or “Look at the trend of your points increasing. Wow, you’re getting fast!”
  • Have fun! It is OK to be a little silly at times. On the smart-board, I had large countdown timer that had a big red ‘start’ button. The kids would be so keyed up and ready to speed through as fast as they can, sometimes I would ‘keep them in suspense’:

 “Ok, everyone ready for Mad Minute?”

Yes, Mr. Esterman…”

Heerrree we go… Ready… Set…. Oh yeah, don’t forget to update your graphs at the end…”
“We know!!!”
“Ready… Set… Everyone’s marker working!??!”
“AAAAHHHH!!!! Mr. Esterman!! Stop it!!”
“Ok, ok…Ready. Set. Go!”


The first time my class (usually during the first full week of school) would do a Mad Minute, teaching through the process took almost the whole class time. I explain each step, students create their graphs, we practice the routine, etc. However, taking that extra time for one period out of the whole school year, I believe, is invaluable! Because after 1 or 2 times of Mad Minute!, the whole activity can be completed in 7-10 minutes.