9 Effective Ways to Prepare Students for Standardized Testing

January 08, 2016

You want your students to be prepared and to be successful, whether its on the SAT, ACT, AP exam, PARCC, or other state or local standardized tests. Use these 9 effective way to get your students ready for the big test.
"Oooo goody, it's time for standardized tests!" said no teacher ever. And while none of us are excited about it, we all want our students to be prepared and successful. Depending on the needs of your students, you may spend a day or a week or several days spread out over several weeks gearing them up for their upcoming standardized test. Below are nine different ways to help you prepare your students and boost their confidence levels for the approaching exam.

1. Do a "cold read" of the test. Simulate both the format of the test and the testing environment for students. This is especially important for students who may struggle with test taking as it will allow them to experience and work through the frustration of not being about to ask questions and the boredom of reading long, uninteresting passages.

However, you don't want students to experience those feelings for the first time as they are taking a high-stakes exam. Giving them exposure to the test and its rules will decrease their frustration when they are taking the real thing.

Test Prep Tip:  Review types of questions and answers that are intentionally written to trip students up like answer choices that are too similar. Read on for more effective ways to prepare students for standardized testing.2. Review test-taking strategies. Students need to know that questions and answers are intentionally written to be tricky. Some answer choices may be true but do not answer the question. Other answer choices may only be partially true.

I usually spend at least one day on a lesson teaching strategies for answering multiple choice questions and constructed response prompts before I give students full practice passages on which to try out the strategies. I have students take notes on the different "tricks" they may see in questions and answer choices, and strategies they can use to work through them.

3. Mark the test for evidence of the answers. This can be done in a variety of ways. You can direct students to go back into the text and mark the evidence that supports their answer to each question as they take a practice test. You can also do this after students have self-corrected a practice test or give students the answers to a test they haven't taken and have them go back to the passage to find the supporting evidence.

Test Prep Tip:  Direct students to go back into the text and mark the evidence that supports their answer to each question as they take a practice test. Read on for more effective ways to prepare students for standardized testing.
You may want to try all three methods starting with the latter just to show students that all of the answers are in the text if they just go back and look. In all three, I have students underline or highlight the evidence and then place the question number next to that section. Then if I need to give a participation grade, I can see that they were actively working.

4. Make it group work. Allow students to work with partners or small groups as they work through a practice test. As students work together, encourage them to discuss why they eliminated certain answer choices and how they selected their final answer. To speed things up, assign each group one question and then have them share out.

If groups are answering all questions or several groups are answering the same question, ask each group to post their answers on the board. This allows you to compare answer choices and look for trends in misunderstanding. You can then focus in on skills with which students are struggling using skill-based assessments to reteach and review. If you are practicing with state released items, you can also share with students the percentage of students who selected those answer choices during past testing. This can help affirm students' struggles and boost their confidence by knowing which questions were difficult for others as well.
Test Prep Tip:  Remove answer choices for multiple-choice questions and have students come up with their own as they work through a practice test. Read on for more effective ways to prepare students for standardized testing.

5. Let students generate their own answers. First remove the answer choices for the multiple-choice questions and have students come up with their own as they work through a practice test. Then show students the real answer choices to see if students are able to select the correct one after coming up with their own. This comparison will also allow students to so see how closely their student-created answers matched up with the "real" ones.

6. Analyze sample constructed responses. Again, if you are practicing with state released items, sample responses to the constructed response prompts are often included. If not, you can write your own (be sure to save them for next year so you don't have to do that year after year!) or use student samples from past assignments (without student names on them of course). Show students samples of constructed response items for each score on the state released rubric (i.e. a 3, 2, 1 and 0) and explain why each was awarded its score.

Test Prep Tip:  Show students samples of constructed response items and explain why each was awarded its score based on the test’s writing rubric. Read on for more effective ways to prepare students for standardized testing.
Then allow students to score other sample constructed responses using the same rubric. If students have read the passage that the constructed responses are connected to, you can also ask the students to revise one of the samples so that it would receive the highest score.

7. Hold a peer scoring session. Allow students to read and score each others' constructed responses using the state released rubric. To make the activity more meaningful than just giving students a score, ask students to also give their peers feedback: one positive and one area of improvement.

If you are concerned about student privacy or if you think your students will be sensitive about being scored by their peers, assign students a number to put on their writing rather than their name. As long as the class is mature enough, I do like students to know who wrote what because I find their feedback to be more meaningful. It can also be helpful for students to identify strong writers in the class that they could potentially turn to for help.

Test Prep Tip:  Have students practice starting off their response to a constructed response prompt using original language from the prompt. Read on for more effective ways to prepare students for standardized testing.8. Practice turning around the prompt. Look at a series of constructed response prompts and have students practice how they would begin their response. Encourage students to use as much of the original language from the prompt as possible. This is especially helpful for students who struggle to get started when it comes time to write. I teach a lesson on the three steps to turning around a prompt, first with simple questions and then with the types of prompts students are likely to be given on the test.

9. Make it fun. Take a break from those practice test passages and use games like Bingo and Jeopardy to review key ideas. Kahoot! is another great interactive (sometimes competitive) way to review. Before we play a review game, I remind my students that they type of questions in the game will not be like what they see on the test, but instead ask about literary terms that may appear on the test. You can check out my Kahoot! reviewing literary terms here and play it with your class. The site has tons of other free, teacher-created Kahoot! games you can search through and play.

For more ideas and resources for assessment:



Have other ideas for effective test preparation? Share them in the comments below. Best of luck to you and your students!

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