by Tom Klonoski
Like it or not, standardized test scores are the primary way of measuring U.S. school performance. With much at stake for both teachers and students, teachers should try to give the kids in their classrooms every possible advantage to help them succeed on the tests.
Most districts gear their curricula toward skills related to the content of tests. In addition to covering content, teachers can give students an edge by including a unit on test-taking strategies, preferably close to the month of the test. Here are some key strategies to give your students a boost.
Before the Test
Get familiar with the test form and question types.
Try to find a practice test on the website of the test publisher. Administer it to your class under a time control. This will help students become familiar with both the structure of the test and a timed format. Afterwards, discuss the test, focusing on any directions the students found confusing. If the publisher does not provide a practice test, use a search engine to see if anyone else has created one. The goal is to get students familiar with question types and how to answer them.
Encourage students to arrive at school on testing day feeling rested and energetic
A healthy mind and body is essential for good test performance. Tell students to get plenty of rest the night before a test. Also encourage them to eat a good breakfast. Tell them to make time for breakfast at school if they aren’t able to get a complete one at home.
Get your students in a good frame of mind immediately before the test.
One of the biggest issues on testing day is nervousness that affects performance. In the days before the test, lead your class in breathing exercises focused on relaxation. Long, deep breaths are the key. When students have become comfortable with this routine, they will be able to use it to their advantage just before the test and even during it. On testing day, make sure you allow time for a bathroom break in the half hour before the test. Just before passing out the test, lead the class in unison to say, “We got this,” or any other statement of affirmation that you think appropriate.
During the Test
Work with your students on these during-test strategies in the weeks leading up to the test.
Read the directions carefully
Following directions is especially important on writing tests. Often a student will begin writing about a prompt and become involved with the flow and organization of the writing. This can result in the writer’s focus wandering away from the topic of the prompt and focusing on the wrong content. Encourage students to create a plan before they start writing. The plan can consist of either a basic outline or graphic organizer. The content of the plan should consist of key points and support. Underlining key words and phrases in the prompt may help them with this task.
Review the answer sheet during and after the test
If the test involves filling in ovals on a test form, students must be careful not to accidentally skip questions and fill in ovals in the wrong rows. Get them in the habit of checking their answer sheet every five questions to make sure they are on the right row. For example, they would check after question 5, after question 10, and so on. They can also check the clock at those times to make sure they are working at an appropriate pace.
Don’t get bogged down on difficult questions
Every test contains items that take longer to complete than other items. Tell students that if they are having trouble with an item, they should just skip it and come back to it at the end of the test. Emphasize that if they do skip an item, they must also skip the corresponding row on their answer sheet. Remind students that even partial answers can receive points on short-response or extended-response items.
One additional advantage of all of these strategies is that mastering them will give students confidence about the test, which can also contribute to an improved performance. Finally, help students to keep a good perspective about the test. They should be satisfied with trying their best; if things don’t turn out well, there will be other opportunities down the road.