Testing…Testing, testing…TESTING


We spend very little time on direct test-preparation (the day before the tests begins, several of my colleagues and I may spend a half-hour on test-taking strategies and specific test “vocabulary”), but we spend the rest of the year preparing students to become life-long learners.

Test-taking Tips

Ø Read each question carefully and more than once

Ø Read the questions before you read the longer text

Ø Underline important words in the text as you read

Ø Do easy questions first

Ø Skip the hard questions and come back to them later (put a mark in your test booklet next to the ones you skip)

Ø Eliminate wrong answers and make your best guess

Ø Trust yourself, your first guess is usually the best

Ø If you do want to change an answer, be sure to erase the first one completely

Ø Use your reading strategies-you’ve been practicing them all year!

…and I’m scratching my head, because that is test prep. I think there is a tendency to either minimize or maximize the amount of preperation we do for testing. Also, there is the perception that it’s black and white, you’re either doing it, or you aren’t, and my feeling is the border between the two is a lot more fuzzy than most of us realize. So as Larry requested I’m going to share what I used to do when I had my own class, and what I’m trying to do now to prep the kids for test taking.

Things I did that I still look back on and feel okay about

  1. I would use the district “test prep” (it’s not allowed to be that and isn’t called that) Standards Plus on areas that are on the test, but not covered well by the text book. I also did supplemental lessons and other materials. This technically could be called teaching to the standards. There’s no reason to treat a text book like it’s a holy book, and any of you still weded to “program fidelity” might want to read this. I’ll go stag, thank you very much!
  2. I would use release questions in math for a daily warm-up and do a discussion around eliminating obviously wrong answers. I would start with the inquiry, why can’t that be that answer? I feel this approach taught critical thinking skills, and also how to spot errors. The kids gravitate towards what’s right, but rarely think to talk about why something is wrong. It was a great opportunity to teach this valuable skill. It can be done with any multiple choice test.
  3. I would review the district Benchmark tests that are given 3-4 times before state testing. In chatting offline with Larry, he felt administering these tests themselves, was more than enough, but there are a couple points about doing a debrief that can be helpful to clarify, especially if there is one question or group of questions on a standard you have covered that they bombed.
  4. The test vocabulary and language is so different than even what is in the state approved texts. Vocabulary questions from Open Court are not at all like the ones given in the CST, if you just let the kids infer this on tests even with the Benchmarks, this will not be enough. You will need to work it in during the school year. This can be done if you post objectives, in how you ask questions.
  5. Talk to students about how they view intelligence. Explain the theory of intelligence to students that it is NOT finite, which can lead students to give up.

Things I look back on and cringe

  1. Giving them the release questions beyond the daily math puzzle. I think it’s better to work in the question vocabulary and strategies to the materials you are already studying, especially in Language Arts, it needs to be based in the stories they are reading and familiar with.
  2. Asking them to improve their test scores or make some pledge about it. I’ve had administrators urge this and I think I kind of blew it off when I had my own class. I don’t have students of my own now, so I don’t have to do it. Most elementary students don’t have a concept of these test being high stakes. I’m worried when we do that, we make them more important to the kids than they should be, which will lead to problems like this in younger students.

Things I am doing, and would like to do more of in the future

  1. I’ve gotten a list of the most common verbs for each grade level, and I’m working them into my lab objectives. First, it makes my objectives, and assignments richer, and I was relying on “learning” so much, it was becoming meaningless. We’ll see if it lasts, but for now, the objectives feel like they are driving better questioning strategies, rather than just “prepping” for the test, so I feel comfortable with this.
  2. Continuing to supplement in areas where the standards are not being covered well by the text. Coordinate graphing in math, symbolism, idiom and imagery in language arts.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Hope it clarifies and helps!

by posted under practice/pedagogy | 2 Comments »    
2 Comments to

“Testing…Testing, testing…TESTING”

  1. April 27th, 2009 at 4:42 am      Reply Larry Ferlazzo Says:

    Hi, Alice,

    You’ve made some great points! I actually think you and I do most of the same things — I just don’t specifically think of some of them as explicit “test-taking strategies.” I just view them as universal learning strategies.

    I especially like your idea of explaining the theory of intelligence. I’ve done that in previous years, but haven’t done that yet this year.


    • April 27th, 2009 at 1:51 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      I FORGOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART (which you included btw), this is ALL useless test week, and is advice best used next year since it requires ongoing effort, rather than cramming.

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