How can I help my students become good test takers?

This article is excerpted from 130 FAQs and Practical Answers From Scholastic's Teacher Helpline
by Ruth Manna

Good teaching every day makes students good test takers. Setting high expectations, demanding quality work, and enforcing rules consistently all contribute to positive test results. A calm, well-organized classroom in which you and your students are fully engaged in learning leads to success on tests. Students who value practice and hard work take tests in stride.

Grades K–2: Students this age take few, if any, standardized tests, but they learn what it means to take a test. As you introduce students to spelling tests and short quizzes, they learn to listen and follow directions. They also learn that test taking has its own protocol. Here are test conditions with which young students will become familiar:

  • Uncluttered, quiet room with lots of natural light
  • Sharp pencils, erasers, grips, highlighters, numberlines, etc.
  • Desks or tables separated from one another and facing forward
  • Desktop dividers or study carrels
  • Clean desktops
  • Book for those who finish the test early

Grades 3–6: By third grade, students understand a test environment. Sample questions from previous tests, usually available online, familiarize students with the test format. Students in grades 3–6 are ready to learn specific test-taking techniques like:

  • Answer all questions. Don’t leave any responses blank.
  • Use process of elimination to narrow choices.
  • Respond using complete sentences.
  • Reread the passage to answer comprehension questions.
  • Watch the time. Don’t spend too much time on any one question.
  • Use a highlighter, if one is permitted.
  • Show your work when solving math problems. Label your answers.
  • Proofread your work. Ask yourself, “Does this answer make sense?”

Special education students: If you have students on individual education plans, be sure they receive the accommodations specified in their IEPs. They may be entitled to the following:

  • Separate room
  • Extended time
  • One-to-one assistance
  • Repeated and clarified instructions
  • Calculator, ruler, etc.
  • Frequent breaks
  • Test broken into smaller chunks


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