Test-Taking Strategies for Three Subject Areas
Strengthen students' vocabulary, improve reading comprehension, and enhance language arts mechanics.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
- Apply various strategies learned in class to formal assessments
- When teaching test-taking strategies, I use Sara Davis Powell's Super Strategies for Succeeding on the Standardized Tests: Reading/Language Arts
Each strategy described below is intended to be used as a suggestion for independent practice. I suggest that you provide multiple practice opportunities throughout the year, prior to the test date, so that your students will use the strategies on this and other formal assessments. You may duplicate any one of the suggested practice assessments in the professional book listed above or use your own.
- Always read directions carefully. Some tests ask for synonyms and some ask for antonyms.
- If asked to find a synonym or antonym for a word that is in a phrase or sentence, consider the context. Sometimes there will be no context clues, but if there are some, be sure to use them.
- Teach your students a variety of "think-alouds" to model how to recognize context clues. Share out-loud an effective thought process to use when reading the entire sentence or paragraph, reviewing word choices, and making a final selection on the test.
- Eliminate the obviously wrong choices by crossing them out with your pencil. Then choose from the words that remain.
- For multiple meaning items, make sure the word you choose fits both sentences. Begin by eliminating (crossing out) the words that do not fit the first sentence. Try only the remaining words in the second sentence.
- Emphasize the importance of reading the directions very carefully. Look for the key word, both. Teach your students to read each sentence with all word choices offered and eliminate those that do not make sense or that do not sound right.
- When you come across a new word in your schoolwork or leisure reading, stop and look it up in the dictionary. Think of ways to use the word and then make it your own.
- Remember that reading comprehension involves a wide range of skills. Most tested skills include:
-determining main idea -defining vocabulary within context -differentiating between fact and opinion -identifying pertinent details -understanding author's opinion -identifying reading strategies -using a story web -identifying connections -sequencing events -understanding characters -choosing best title -identifying setting -comparing and contrasting -understanding plot -making inferences -generalizing through analogies -making predictions -interpreting figures of speech -recognizing extraneous information -drawing conclusions -extending meaning
Make a classroom poster of all these skills and refer to them throughout the school year as you teach each skill. Help your students identify each skill being used in mini-lessons and guided practice.
- When you have a passage to read followed by questions, read the questions first. This will give you a good idea of what to look for as you read the passage.
- Remind your students to quickly scan the test section. This will give them an idea of what is coming in the time allowed for the section. Provide many opportunities for students to learn how to "scan" written material in a variety of activities and lessons.
- When you are asked to choose a definition for a word in the passage, the word will usually be italicized. Scan the passage to find the word. Reading the sentence before, the sentence containing the word, and the sentence following the word will usually give you enough information to answer the question correctly.
- Always look back at the passage to answer questions rather than relying on memory.
- Look for key words such as first, then, next, finally, and after when sequencing events.
- Always read all the choices before answering a question.
- Encourage your students to try all the answer choices to see which one is best and to eliminate answers they know are wrong.
- Look for negative words in questions.
- Teach your students what to do when they read, "What is the opposite of...", "Which one is not included...", "All of these happened except..."
- The main idea of a passage is most often at the very beginning and it may be stated again at the very end.
- If you are asked about cause and effect, look for key words such as since, because, as a result of, and therefore.
- Do not be discouraged by very long passages.
- Teach your students to not spend too much time on any one item. Encourage them to skip an item if necessary, leave it blank, and come back to it later. Focus on the questions that come quicker and easier for them.
- Take a general look at what you're reading. Often capitalization errors are obvious at a glance.
- Check for capitalization rules that have been broken. Consistently review mechanics rules for proper nouns, titles, sentence beginnings, proper adjectives, certain places, etc.
- If you are asked to choose the correct phrase, compare the phrases word-for-word. Don't be fooled by phrases that look almost the same.
- Look for places where punctuation is obviously missing.
- As you read a sentence silently, every time you feel the need to pause because of what the sentence is saying, consider putting a punctuation mark.
- Look for too many punctuation marks. If a sentence looks cluttered, chances are that it may be over punctuated.
- Think about the punctuation rules you've learned. Consistently review the rules for using commas, periods, apostrophes, quotation marks, colons and semicolons, and so on.
- Be aware of numbers. Review the special rules for placing punctuation marks around numbers.
- Assign groups of students to make posters of each of these three strategies, allowing the students to add a strategy or two of their own.
- Assign a numbered strategy to individual students and ask them to teach mini-lessons demonstrating an effective use of it.
- Invite a relaxation specialist to speak about how to reduce testing anxiety.
- Invite a nutritionist to talk about the importance of healthy eating, adequate rest, and other necessary physical preparations for test-taking.
- Consistently practice these and other strategies throughout the school year, using published test-prep practice and materials.