A student’s performance on a standardized test is influenced by many things: some obvious, some elusive, some over which educators have control, and others over which they do not. Until someone invents a magic wand, word, or potion that can be waved over, said to, or imbibed by students, educators will have to rely on more conventional methods to help their students succeed on standardized tests. Below are some general test-taking tips for year-round test preparation as well as last minute tips for test-taking students.
Reduce Stress and Build Confidence
As well as the physical and mental aspects of test-taking, there is also a crucial psychological component to testing well. It is important, therefore, to reduce students’ stress and increase confidence during the year so that when test-taking time rolls around, students will feel well-prepared and at ease.
- In order to reduce stress, it first needs to be recognized. Discuss feelings and apprehensions about testing. Give students some tools for handling stress.
- Begin talking about good habits at the beginning of the year. Talk about getting enough sleep, eating a good breakfast, and exercising before and after school. Consider sending home a letter encouraging parents to start these good routines with their children at home.
- Explain the power of positive thought to your students. Tell them to use their imaginations to visualize themselves doing well. Let them know that they have practiced all year and are ready for what is to come.
- Remember to let students stretch and walk around between tests. Try using “Simon Says” with younger students throughout the year to get them to breathe deeply, stretch, and relax so it won’t be a novel idea during test time.
- Build confidence during the year when using the practice tests. Emphasize that these tests are for learning. If they could get all of the answers right the first time, they wouldn’t need any practice. Encourage students to state at least one thing they learned from doing the practice test.
- Give credit for reasonable answers. Explain to students that the test makers write answers that seem almost true to really test the students’ understanding. Encourage students to explain why they chose the answers they gave and then reason with the whole class on how not to be duped the next time.
- Promote a relaxed, positive, outlook on test-taking. Let your students know on the real day that they are fully prepared to do their best.
Last Minute Test-Taking Tips
A few things to be mindful of the night before and day of the test…
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before the test. Most people need about eight hours.
- Avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks before taking the test as they can make you jittery.
- Eat a balanced meal.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Read/listen to the directions carefully. If something is unclear, ask
- Wear a watch and budget your time.
- Find out the rules of the test. Will you be penalized for answering something incorrectly? For leaving something blank? Will partial credit be given?
- If you get stuck on a question, mark it and move on. You can come back to it later.
- If the test permits, do a memory check. Jot down important formulas or information on a piece of scrap paper.
- Use mnemonic devices to jog your memory.
This concludes our series on standardized test-taking tips and strategies
When we teach our students test-taking strategies, we run the risk of inadvertently implying that it is possible to do well on a test by simply strategizing alone. This, of course, is not the case. No test-taking strategy can take the place of simply knowing the material, and it’s important that this be stated explicitly to students. Students who understand the material and who are confident usually don’t need strategies to help them do well on tests; and if they do, it is only on about 10% of the test items. Nevertheless, it is critical that teachers share the most important and foolproof test-taking strategies with their students.
The Secrets to Acing Tests!
- Attend school regularly and be on time.
- Come to school prepared, rested, and ready to learn.
- Complete all of your classroom and homework assignments.
- Ask for help if you don’t understand.
- Spend time every day studying and reviewing material.
- Create an organized and quiet place in which to study.
- Know that procrastination is the enemy of achievement!
Stay tuned for more tips on successful standardized testing.
While many of the same strategies that students use to navigate other portions of standardized tests apply to math tests, there are a few additional methods with which they should be familiar. Math, after all, is an animal all its own and routinely requires students to solve a plethora of problems by applying a variety of problem-solving strategies.
- Know the Vocabulary! Make sure you are familiar with all of the related terms that may appear on the test—area, circumference, and quotient. It would be a shame to get a problem wrong simply because you didn’t understand what you were being asked to do!
- Underline Key Words! Read the problem carefully then underline the key words that indicate what you are required to find. Are you looking for the sum? The difference? The perimeter?
- Recognize and Eliminate the Unnecessary! Often math word problems will provide you with information that you don’t need in order to solve the problem. Seek the information you need and ignore the information you don’t.
- Select a Strategy! Often there is more than one way to solve a problem. Chose the strategy that will work best for you. Will you draw a picture? Use a formula? Make a graph?
- Use Estimation and Recognition! In many cases you will be able to recognize the correct answer immediately. In others, you may be able to simply make an estimate. Estimation and recognition are two strategies that can save you a lot of time on standardized tests.
- Use Mental Math! Occasionally, you may encounter problems that you can solve in your head. Lucky you! This, too, can save you a lot of time.
- Read All of the Options! Before you jump to any conclusions, make sure that you read all of the options. Think of the options as helping hands leading you to the correct answer.
- Beware the Lure! You may frequently encounter traps or lures on multiple-choice math exams. Often one of the options, usually the first or second one will contain an answer that appears correct but is actually wrong. Have a look:
If you add $11.11 to $32.73 the sum will be
A. $ 43.84 greater than $ 32.73. < – lure
B. $ 43.84 less than $ 32.73 < – lure
C. $ 11.11 less than $32.73 < – incorrect
D. $ 43.84 < – correct
This is your average, run-of-the-mill addition problem; however, if you were not careful, you might be tricked into selecting either A or B because the first number that you see, $43.84, is actually the sum of $32.73 and $11.11. Of course, neither one of these is the correct answer.
Use All of the Time! It’s never a good idea to rush through any test, but math tests in particular require that you check and double-check your work. If you have time, go back over as many problems as you can to make sure that your answers are correct.
For more test-taking tips and standardized test practice for math, check out:
Every student in your class needs good test-taking skills, and almost all of them will need to be taught these skills. Even fluent readers and extremely logical students will fare better on standardized tests if they are taught a few simple skills for taking tests.
- The ability to follow complicated and sometimes confusing directions: Teach students to break down the directions and translate them into easy, understandable words.
- The ability to scale back what they know and concentrate on just what is asked and is contained in the text: Show them how to restrict their responses. Question students on the answers when doing practice exercises and have them show where they found the answer in the text.
- The ability to rule out confusing distracters in multiple choice answers: Teach students to look for key words and match up the information from the text.
- The ability to maintain concentration during boring and tedious repetition: Use practice time to practice this and reward students for maintaining concentration. Explain to students why they are practicing and why their concentration is important for the day of the test.
There are also environmental elements that you can practice with throughout the year in order for your students to become more accustomed to them for the testing period.
- If your desks are pushed together, have students move them apart so they will be accustomed to the feel on test-taking day.
- Put a “Testing—Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
- Require “test etiquette” when practicing: no talking, active listening, and following directions.
- Provide a strip of construction paper for each student to use as a marker.
- Establish a routine for replacing broken pencils. Give each student two sharpened pencils and have a back-up supply ready. Tell students they will need to raise their broken pencil in their hand, and you will give them a new one. One thing students should not worry about is the teacher’s reaction to a broken pencil.
- Read the instructions during practice sessions as you would when giving a standardized test so they grow accustomed to your test-giving voice.
- As a teacher, you probably realize that what is practiced daily is what is best learned. All of these practices work well to help students improve their scores.