Five Test Preparation Tips for the Classroom January 25 2012

It's that time of year!

The end of January in our school district marks the beginning of the official testing window. Whether we like it or not, our kids will spend valuable hours navigating through state-mandated standardized reading and math tests here in Oregon.

While the purpose of assessment in the classroom is to figure out what students know and to direct our teaching, our approach to preparing students for standardized tests is necessarily different than typical assessments. The following strategies can help you and your students prepare and navigate the standardized testing window.

Involve Parents...and Food

Successful testing involves elements that are not limited to the testing time itself, including adequate (and extra) sleep during the testing window as well as regular, healthy meals and snacks.  Before the testing window begins, start sending information home for parents regarding the state tests and dates that your students will be participating. Encourage parents to put these dates on their calendars and send their children to bed early on those nights.

It can be difficult to ensure that your students are fed well regardless of the testing window. When sending information home to parents, ask if there are any volunteers who could send in all-natural and healthy snacks for kids to eat as they take breaks during testing times. Ask for snacks that are high in protein, such as cheese sticks, nuts and dried fruit, or all-natural granola bars (TLC and Kashi have great options). Another option is to ask for ingredients to make a special classroom "testing trail mix," like Goldfish crackers, roasted almonds, dried fruit, and small pretzel twists among others. Mix and pass out in cups or small bowls during breaks between testing to keep everyone well-fueled!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Standardized tests are as much about test-taking skills as they are about information. Just like learning to read a map, kids need to build skills that help them navigate state tests. Some of theses test-taking skills include:

  • Read questions carefully (and more than once)
  • Cross out answers that you know are not correct
  • Review questions before starting a reading passage
  • Read the passage more than once
  • Highlight answers in the reading passage while answering the questions
  • Work out math answers using all available tools (i.e. manipulatives, pencil and paper, calculators)
  • Check math answers
  • Skip questions and come back to them later
  • Take your time!

As assessment is part of what drives classroom instruction, these test-taking strategies can be taught throughout the year. However, it's important to approach these skills with your students as you would subject-oriented curriculum in order to establish a strong foundation with your kids.

Review Essential Skills

While personally not a proponent of "teaching to the test," I do appreciate the value of reviewing those essential grade-level skills that I know are going to appear. For example, mean, median and mode seem to be on every test in the history of earth, regardless of grade or age level.

To save time and energy, combine the review of this kind of information with teaching valuable test-taking skills. Incorporate this information into homework packets that can be completed and reviewed with parents, and practice these skills and pieces of information a little each day to keep your students sharp and ready for the testing window. This preparation will help everyone in your classroom feel confident and do their best no matter the test!