In many classrooms, including mine, “test” is among the worst four-letter words that can be uttered. Students who were “sure they did well” become frustrated when they receive a failing grade. And as teachers, we agonize over where we went wrong with our instruction and content review. Where does this testing paradox begin and how can we bridge the gap between what students know in their heads and the information that gets transferred to the page?
In his bestselling book, A Mind at a Time, Dr. Mel Levine suggests that students who are poor test takers most likely suffer deficits in the areas of:
Although these represent a broad spectrum of testing barriers, there are a few methods in my teaching arsenal that address each of them. Below are my top five strategies for increasing test preparedness. These out-of-the-box approaches will get students passing with flying colors in no time.
How many times have you seen someone walk into your classroom seemingly prepared for an exam, only to get a “deer in the headlights” look once the paper hits their desk? Memory Boxes are perfect for students who are extremely anxious to begin a test and forget everything all at once. This strategy allows those students to quickly dump information on paper before they forget it. Depending on your policy, Memory Boxes may be used before the test as a quick study guide or during the exam as a way to recall formulas, acronyms, etc. Sometimes this little accommodation is all a student needs to succeed.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of meeting the needs of visual learners, who often need information presented in digital form so that they can connect to it. Online sites such as Study Stack or Scholastic’s Flash Card Maker allow students to study content in a multitude of ways. In addition to traditional flash cards, formats such as crosswords, hangman, matching, and self-quizzes are offered, making the process of studying both entertaining and educational.
One of my favorite professional resources is 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge. Amongst its gems is “My Textbook Page,” which is the perfect fit for mastery learners who need higher level thinking and critical reasoning questions to challenge them. I use it as a supplementary worksheet as well as a study guide for those who are on the higher ability level in my class. You will find that it offers variations for all content areas, making it ideal for any teacher.
A staple in my instruction, a “Fist List” is a quick and easy way to take notes that makes it easy to study key concepts. All students need is a piece of paper and their hand to trace and voilÃÂ ! To increase the level of difficulty, create a double fist list by using both hands. Fist Lists also make wonderful tickets out the door and provide instant formative assessments. The best part about them is that they can be color-coded, and since the information is separated by the fingers, it's automatically chunked for easier understanding.
A few years ago, several colleagues of mine started passing out Smarties candies before tests as an incentive for students to do their best. It’s amazing how such a simple trick can make such an impact. By simply believing in themselves, their performance on tests increases dramatically, proving that sometimes test-taking ability can be entirely mental.
What top tips do you have for increasing test scores? I would love to hear about your best practices here!