# Standardized Test-Taking Tips & Strategies: Part IV – Secrets to Acing Tests

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.

# Standardized Test-Taking Tips & Strategies: Part III – Taking Standardized Math Tests

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:

# Standardized Test-Taking Tips & Strategies: Part II – Test-Taking Skills

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.

Test-Taking Skills

• 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.

Test-Taking Environment
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.

# Standardized Test-Taking Tips & Strategies: Part I – Introduction

Standardized tests have not only been the subject of intense controversy among educators, but also the cause of much teeth-gnashing among students. And it’s understandable. If individuals are unique and learning styles and ways of understanding varied, how then can a standardized test accurately measure what a student knows?

There is a story of a first grade teacher, who held up a red apple to her class of 30 eager students and asked, “What color is this apple?” Twenty-nine of the students replied, “It’s red,” while one brave soul countered, “It’s red and white.” “Oh,” the teacher responded, “I don’t see any white,” to which the student replied, “That’s because you have to bite it!”

A cautionary tale to be sure and one that demonstrates that there are multiple ways in which to know and that they can all potentially be correct. For this reason, it’s critical that both educators and students understand what standardized tests seek to measure and the best strategies to prepare for and take these kinds of tests.

The vast majority of standardized tests that students encounter during their academic careers, including the California Achievement Test, the Iowa Test, and the Stanford Achievement Test are norm-referenced tests. Norm-referenced tests compare and rank students in a particular grade with other students in that same grade. By doing this, educators can get a quick snapshot of where their students stand and to what extent their scores deviate from the average or the norm.

The content contained on standardized tests is aligned with statewide curriculum standards and vice versa. If a skill set appears in your content standards, it is reasonable to expect that it may appear on a standardized test. To put it another way, you will never find this on a fourth grade standardized test:

(4x – 2×2 – 7xy) + (2×2 + 5xy)

. . . and if you do, it probably means that you are having a nightmare! (By the way, the answer is
4x – 2xy.) However, this is a different story:

63
x 59
_____

And the reason is clear. The addition and subtraction of polynomials is not part of the fourth grade core content for math, while the multiplication of two-digit numbers is.

It is imperative that students understand how standardized tests are scored, what they measure and the kinds of material they will encounter. By sharing this behind-the-scenes aspect of standardized tests with your students you will help to empower them by demystifying the tests themselves, and reducing the high anxiety often associated with them.

Standardized tests can be effective measurement tools. Over the years great steps have been taken to improve standardized testing; for instance, paying particular attention to bias in order to create tests that are not only more equitable, but also to provide students with an array of strategies that they can use in test-taking situations.

The next few upcoming posts will be aimed at helping educators and students prepare for standardized tests by providing general information on test-taking strategies, tips on stress and anxiety reduction, and recommended resources for successful test-taking, so stay tuned!