Students need practice in marking answer sheets, pacing themselves, and making reasonable guesses on questions they don't know. They need to understand the purpose of standardized testing and practice with special strategies--for example, eliminating incorrect answers on multiple-choice questions.

Both experienced teachers and test makers agree that students need to learn how to take tests. That doesn't mean teaching to the test or focusing curriculum on test content; it means making students familiar with the testing format and general test-taking strategies.

Many teachers, for example, design their own classroom tests to fit standardized-test format. On a spelling test, they might ask their students to pick the correct spelling of a word from among four different choices. Or on a math test, they might list four possible answers and have students indicate the correct one after working the problem. However, be careful not to rely on certain test formats exclusively.

In Test Scores Count! A Handbook for Teaching Test-Taking Skills, author Sharon Koenigs identifies four major skill areas for taking standardized tests. You can design short lessons and practice activities around each of these areas.

  • Understanding instructions and following directions. Following oral and written instructions, understanding the vocabulary of test directions, using answer sheets, interpreting different formats.
  • Using time efficiently. Budgeting time, saving unknown questions for last, using extra time to check answers.
  • Guessing wisely. For example, eliminating answers in multiple-choice questions.
  • Apply special strategies to specific types of test questions. For example, avoiding, in most cases, answers that include "all" or "none" in true/false items.

When giving tests, you can enlist help from parents, too. Keeping family members informed about testing procedures is not only essential for home-school communications, but also enables parents to provide the support and atmosphere children need before a test. Many teachers send home a letter (PDF) with test-taking tips.