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The Do's and Don'ts of Test Prep

Don't let standardized testing send you—or your students—into a panic.

Student taking test

Come March or April, it's easy to abandon reason and think, “Standardized testing! Let me totally abandon every good teaching practice I know and drill my kids to their breaking point!”

If this sounds familiar, it's time to stop, back up, and reassess.

You don’t need to completely abandon best practices in order to help students prepare to take a standardized test. Many of the test-prep strategies I teach my students are actually tools that help build real-world problem-solving skills. Here are nine of the key concepts I equip my students with every year.

1. Don't cram!

First off, your best bet for test prep is to make sure you include elements of it throughout the entire school year.

To cram everything into one or two months not only creates a stressful unit for you and your students, but it makes them less likely to retain the material. Give students a test prompt once a week or once every few weeks (whether in-school or for homework) to familiarize them with the nature of a standardized test, and they will be more comfortable when the real test rolls around.

2. Do integrate test prep with regular lessons.

When you do enter the realm of specific “test prep” material, there are a number of lessons that can appear in isolation or be integrated into the standard reading and writing workshops you are already teaching. (See numbers 3-7 for examples.)

3. Do introduce students to likely test questions.

When students can anticipate test questions, it makes the testing experience less frightening. As teachers, we know that there are likely to be questions about character growth, character emotions, identifying themes or main ideas, and recalling supporting details in test passages. If we can arm our students with this knowledge, they can better predict what type of questions will come with what type of passage (whether literary or informational) and consequently read with a trained eye.

4. Do have students practice thinking of answers before seeing the options.

In addition to predicting test questions, when students predict the answer to a question prior to reading the multiple choice options, they are less likely to be tricked by distractor answers. Have them cover up the answers to practice questions and see if they can give a correct answer—if they are confident in their response, choosing from the given options won’t be as confusing.

5. Do encourage students to make inferences.

If you aren’t teaching students how to infer about characters while reading, we have a problem! Students of all grade levels should always be considering their characters’ motivations, struggles, relationships, and traits. This type of test prep lesson should simply be an extension of your usual teachings and read-alouds, reminding students to hone in on important material as they read literary test passages.

6. Do reinforce main literacy concepts year-round.

Another set of concepts you should continually discuss with your students are theme and main idea—or more specifically, "theme as it relates to fictional stories and passages" and "main idea for informational." These two topics should be taught well before test prep occurs so they can be easily recalled during test prep.

7. Do emphasize the importance of context clues.

When students enter the realm of standardized testing, their nerves can displace common sense. If you give students strategies to attack challenging words, they can access tricky material better. Have students practice reading through test questions and really digging deep to make sense of difficult words. Have them identify clues within the text, within the question itself, and even within the answers to make sense of what a question is really asking.

8. Do give plenty of practice tests.

Do as many of the online (if applicable) practice tests you can to familiarize students with online tools and the format of the test. I usually spend at least a whole reading block familiarizing students with tools and then giving them the option to just play around with the online practice test before even getting into the passages and questions.

9. Don't be afraid to get creative—and even a little silly.

Make a song. Make a song for literally anything you possibly can. I created a song about essays for my students, and I heard kids humming/whispering it to themselves during our standardized testing! Because you’ve read to the end of this post, I will share my song with you here. Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells, enjoy The Essay Song:

Introduction, introduction, intro-duuuction. Hook and background information and a theeesis.

Then you have reason 1
With evidence A B C

Then you have reason 2
With evidence A B C

Then you have reason 3
With evidence A B C

Finally a con-clu-sion with a thesis and a question!

What are your best test-taking tips? Share them with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

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Want more from this author? Check out Lisa's tips on classroom seating and meaningful classroom rules.
Author Bio:

Lisa Koplik is a fourth-grade teacher at the Greenwood School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. She loves teaching math, reading intense read-aloud books that promote complaints when she has to stop reading, and figuring out educational games to play with her students. Check out her video series on classroom management!

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