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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Preparing for Tests - Teacher and Student
Theresa London Cooper

Tests! Most of us don’t like them. It isn’t pleasant to watch our students struggle with them. We’d rather spend most of our time instructing our students. Nevertheless, tests are part of life and a major part of our students’ lives.  It is crucial that they understand some basic ideas about tests. And we must teach them; therefore we must possess certain information about tests.  Over the years, I’ve found a few things helpful. 

Familiarize yourself with the test.
Find out what you can as soon as you can. It is important to know the structure of the test.  Find out if students will need to know how to complete multiple-choice questions, respond in writing, show previous thinking, use graphic organizers, transfer their thinking from a graphic organizer to a coherent paragraph, or listen for extended periods of time.

Know the vocabulary.  Each test has specific words that are particular to it and some words are common to a number of tests. Make sure you know what they are. For example, words like compare, sequence, calculate, most likely, and most different show up on tests. Specifically, some of my students had difficulty understanding the directions on a math test that required them to arrange numbers in decreasing or increasing order. Often students have heard the words, but don’t understand what is being asked when they encounter them on tests. Sometimes they understand the concept, but may not know the word connected to it. Help students with these words.  Post them around the room and make reference to them throughout the year. Include them in the directions for homework.  Help the students make them part of their speaking and, when appropriate, written vocabulary.

Know the time limits. Some tests have specific time limits while others do not. When administering tests in class, provide opportunities for students to experience both situations. Using a timer is helpful.

Familiarize students with the test.
Vocabulary is critical and often a stumbling block for students.  It is essential to help them understand the idea that words have multiple meanings.  Sometimes the meaning used in the context of a test is not the one with which students are most familiar.  They must understand that it is necessary to read the context to determine which meaning is being used. Additionally, students should know words like compare, underline, circle, least, most, best, always.

Teach children to read and follow directions.
In many instances, I’ve seen teacher read directions to students that they were perfectly capable of reading themselves. Consequently, when given an assignment, some students don’t attempt to read directions independently and ask the teacher what they should do. Students must have numerous opportunities to practice reading and following directions for themselves.

Familiarize students with the structure of the test. 
Embed the structure in some of the homework assignments. Consequently, children can focus on the content on the day of the test without being distracted by an unfamiliar structure.

Help students understand the concept of time. 
Many of our students don’t have a good sense of time when applied to testing.  It’s imperative that we help them understand what five minutes, ten minutes, thirty minutes and one hour are.  Math is a great place to teach the idea of time.  Give students different timed activities to help them understand what they can accomplish within different time frames and how they need to work in order to complete a given task. On some occasions, you may want to record the time they have, when they begin and when they end.  Then, on the day of the test, they are not as distracted by time limits.

Reassure students. 
Help students understand that one test relays a small bit of information regarding what they know. Remind them of all the other bits of information that convey their learning like portfolios, writing samples, artwork, and presentations. Let them know that it’s important to do their very best in all instances.

If we practice the aforementioned habits throughout the year, students will cope with test taking a great deal better. But, most importantly, we must focus on instructing our students. We must not loose sight of our primary purpose, which is to teach them to think critically. We must give them opportunities to show their thinking in various ways that will engage them and help them understand that learning can be enjoyable and preparing for tests in part of the learning process.

E-mail Theresa.

See also: Using Your Writers’ Workshop to Prepare Students for Standardized Tests
by Allison Demas


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