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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Thoughtful Instruction That Supports Test-Taking
Theresa London Cooper

We are in an era of accountability through testing. Whether teaching kindergarten or twelfth grade, it is important that we become familiar with the tests students will take and consider strategies that will support effective test-taking. But how do you do that and not make students feel like they are spending too much time doing test preparation?

First, it is important that we become familiar with the structure of the tests, with the types of questions asked and the terms used. Only then can we pass that information on to our students and prevent them from becoming distracted by unfamiliar terms or questions framed in a way that may confuse them. Once you are familiar with the test you can begin preparing them. Here are a few practices that I’ve found to be effective.
  • Use terms that will appear on the test.
  • Use your work stations to give students many opportunities to work independently and read directions for themselves. Think about using work stations in mathematics, social studies and science.
  • Present information in various forms to help students understand the different ways materials may be presented.
  • Ask questions in various ways, i.e., multiple choice, fill in the blanks, and essay writing.
    Have the students use graphic organizers to order their thinking.
  • Embed test taking behaviors in your lessons and homework assignments as a way to informally assess what students know. For example, give students a set amount of time to answer one or two questions.
  • Hang experience charts around the room with testing language and symbols that students should know and may reference.
  • Collect data and allow it to inform your planning and instruction to suit the students’ needs.

Finally, we must remember that our goal is to teach for learning. We don’t teach test items; we teach students to be critical thinkers who have had a great deal of exposure to concepts that will allow them to respond to test items because they have an in-depth understanding of the concepts.

Are you familiar with the tests your students will take in future grades? How does your instruction teach the important concepts students need in order to respond to various forms of test items?

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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