April 2, 2024

4 More Ways to Prepare Students for Standardized Testing

Standardized testing creates stress for students. I try to alleviate that by making sure my students feel as prepared as possible using these 4 ideas.

Like it or not, standardized testing is not an educational fad that has come and gone. And even worse is that, as much as we like to tell students that a test score doesn't define who they are, those scores can have an impact on students' future. 

For my middle school students, those test scores determine which high schools they are eligible to apply to. For high school students, those test scores can determine which colleges they apply to and the grants and scholarships they'll be awarded. And if students seek education beyond a four year degree, those test scores can determine their eligibility for law school, medical school, and more.

That's a lot of pressure for students (and their teachers too). I try to alleviate some of that pressure by making sure my students feel as prepared as possible as we approach standardized testing (find other stress relieving ideas here). While that preparation has really been happening all year long through our curriculum, it can be reassuring for students when they know that the activities we are engaging in are explicitly prepared them for the upcoming test. I previously wrote about nine different ways to help prepare students and boost their confidence levels. Read on for four more ideas.

1. Reinforce Writing Expectations Without Writing

It is helpful for students to see samples of different skill levels of writing from other students at their grade level. For this activity, I use released items from my state's standardized assessment. I chose a reading passage that is in the shorter side so we can read through it together as a class or students can read through it together in small groups or pairs before beginning a gallery walk.

For the gallery walk, I hang 8 different writing samples around the room. Using a clipboard, a scoring rubric, and a recording sheet, students work in small groups of pairs to record the positive and negative qualities of each sample and give it a score. If you have a large class, you may want half of your class engaged in another activity while half of the class does the gallery walk and then switch so things don't get too crowded. 

At the end of the activity, we come back together as a whole class to review the actual scores and share highlights of the positives and negatives of each writing sample. Students are usually pretty spot on with their scoring (if not a little harsher) and are always excited to see that their feedback is similar to professional scorers' commentary.

2. Get Hands On With Structuring Writing

To continue having students look at writing exemplars, I break apart some student responses from released items and ask students to put the pieces back together into an essay. I make an easy level by just breaking the text dependent analysis into four to six pieces based on the number of paragraphs and a more challenging level by each piece with a letter so I can easily create an answer key and check students’ work.

To extend this activity, you could make 6-8 essay "scrambles" and have small groups of students rotate around the room at your direction, unscrambling each one. You could also have students choose one to explain their choices for structuring the essay the way they did. Why is this paragraph the introduction versus the conclusion? Why did they order the body paragraphs the way that they did? How did they know this was a topic sentence versus text evidence?

3. Incorporate Movement With A Question Trail

After I spend a day going over five different strategies for eliminating wrong answer choices and other test taking strategies (you can find that lesson here), I have students review and apply the strategies in a question trail activity. Like the gallery walk, this activity allows students to get up out of their seats and collaborate with others. 

In a question trail, multiple choice questions are posted around the room. Each answer choice points students to a next question to move to. If students answer all of the questions correctly, they will have visited each question and return to the question when they began the trail. If students answer a question incorrectly, the trail will go off course and they’ll end up back at a question they’ve already visited or back at the start before they’ve visited all of the questions.  

While I use a question trail to review test taking strategies, you could also use a released test passage and the corresponding multiple choice questions to have students practice answering the type of questions they’ll see on their exam.

4. Make The Test Format And Expectations Clear

Although as sixth graders, students have taken standardized tests for several years, I still find it helpful to review the daily test format and the do’s and don’ts of testing. Our testing for ELA lasts for three days. Day 1 is all multiple choice, some questions are about writing conventions and grammar, and the rest are connected to reading passages. Day 2 is made up of some multiple choice connected to reading passages and a text dependent analysis prompt.  Day 3 has a little bit of everything. Knowing what to expect each day alleviates some of the frustration of testing and helps students pace themselves through the test.

I also review what they can and should do in their test booklet: cross out wrong answer choices, circle question they want to review, annotate the TDA prompt, and highlight text evidence for their text dependent analysis essay. I remind students what they can do on scratch paper: create a graphic organizer and write a rough draft, and that they should utilize the writer’s checklist provided in the test booklet. On the ELA portion of the test, there isn’t much students can have read to them, but I encourage them to ask if they want those parts read (the writing conventions and grammar conventions and the text dependent analysis prompt).

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