From game-show style review sessions and creating practice tests with "old" test items to reading a picture book that calms the nerves, these teacher-tested tips offer some creative ideas on preparing students for standardized tests.
"For math tests, my first graders love using white boards to answer test prep questions. I create a list of questions that can be answered by either drawing a picture or writing a numerical answer. My students are seated in groups of four so they are already in teams. In order for a team to score a point, all members must have the correct answer showing on their board. I give the question using the overhead as a visual tool and then look for the first team with their boards held up showing the correct answer. That team gets a point and the team with the most points at the end of the review receives a prize, which is free reading time at the end of the day. The children love this activity and it really builds their cooperative and listening skills while effectively preparing them for their tests."
—Lauren Crisp, Knoxville, Tennessee
"When I was teaching third and fifth grades, we took a lot of standardized tests. Before we would take a standardized test, I always read the book First Grade Takes a Test by Miriam Cohen. Although it is about first graders, the message works for any age. It lets the children know that although the test scores get a lot of emphasis, those scores don't reflect the type of person they are. I think it puts their little minds at ease prior to the test!"
—Karen Kuntzman, Taylorville, Illinois
"I tell the kids all year that every test is a chance to 'show-off' what they know. I will often tell them that they must write neatly and explain everything for the people who will be grading their tests. Since Ohio History is the social studies curriculum, I have them pretend that the governor is going to look at their scores since he cannot visit the classroom. When we check our practice standardized test, they write $100 by every correct answer using colored pencil, so there is no cheating or changing answers. Then they get $50 bonuses if they show extra work, circle clue words, draw pictures, etc. to show they have thoroughly read each question. The pretend money is a huge motivator. I like to make the students feel 'extra smart' on all tests, so I make every test very important so that the standardized tests are not so threatening to them."
—Linda Wolfe, New Knoxville, Ohio
"Every time you share a tip that will help students on a standardized test, tell them how it will help. I have been in the middle of a discussion about something totally unrelated to standardized testing and have stopped to say, 'This will help you when you are taking the state exam.' Letting students know that what you are sharing has purpose sometimes helps them to stay more focused and see a lesson as having an important effect on their lives."
—Martha Ray, Poneto, Indiana
"Share scores individually with students so they have a goal for the test. I explain the different levels of scoring to my class in student-friendly terms and then share their scores with them, and what the need to do advance to the next level."
—Kechia Williams, Columbia, South Carolina
"Two weeks before the test, we perform a short practice test. This is a test I've written that is similar to the real thing but half the length. After performing each section, we review it in class, discussing the questions and answers...My students also keep a journal for daily writing activities. Over the years, I have collected the released test items and incorporate similar prompts in the daily writing."
—Cate Sanazaro, Cuba, Missouri
"Each day, I start each subject with three review questions written out on the overhead. The first question is always something we learned several weeks or months ago, the second question is on something within the past month, and the third is on a recent lesson (which often leads right into that day's lesson). In math, at least one of the questions is a word problem. Students write their names and answers to these questions on small pieces of scratch paper and then put them into our 'Sweet Treat' bucket. My students have been trained to go back and look in their notes for help if they get stuck on a question, and this has really encouraged them to keep their old notes organized and legible. After we go over the answers to these questions, I select three correct answers out of the bucket, and reward those three kids with a piece of candy [feel free to use healthy snacks, bonus points, coupons, free time, and other classroom incentives as rewards instead]. It's quick, motivating, and inexpensive (parents donate treats). Plus, it gives me valuable feedback because I can see what topics kids are struggling with as I dig through the bucket looking for right answers."
—Julia Davis, Mechanicsville, Virginia
The ideas in this article originally appeared in Teacher magazine, published by Scholastic.