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March 8, 2012 Tips and Tricks for Taking the Test By Jennifer Solis and Jenifer Boatwright
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    In California, state testing begins in 2nd grade. Our district administers the test during a two-week block in the month of April. With that date quickly approaching, you will find both of us taking a few moments each day to review and prepare. Here are some lessons we have learned from past testing experiences.


    Before the Test

    Released Test Questions

    Check with your state’s Department of Education to see if they release questions from previous years’ tests.  If they do, then you have a great resource. We use our state’s released test questions to give our students a chance to get familiar with the test format.  We like to do a few problems each day as a warm-up. We talk about what the questions are asking and teach students to look for those important key words that will tell them what they need to do to answer the question. 


    Tools for Testing

    In 2nd grade, students are required to measure using a ruler provided with the test. Since not all rulers are the same, we make sure that our students have seen and practiced with a variety of rulers throughout the school year.

    Write on the Test?

    Tired of watching your students add when they should be subtracting? Try this: Have students circle the sign in the problem! This gets their brain ready and lets them know what they are going to be doing. 


    Listening Practice

    The 2nd grade math section of the California State Test has a large number of word problems. Students must carefully listen to the story that the teacher reads and solve the problem. To prepare for this, we start in the beginning of the year. We work on one word problem each day. We provide the students with a blank piece of paper that they will use to solve the story that we read to them.

    We have the students “draw” what the story is telling them.  After drawing it out, we have them think about what they need to do to solve the problem so that it matches what the story is telling them to do. 


    Notify Parents 

    Just before testing begins, we send home a parent letter, notifying parents of ways that they can help. We ask that they make sure that students eat a healthy breakfast before coming to school. We also ask that students be sure to get plenty of exercise and sleep. In addition, we ask parents to donate healthy snacks to the classroom so that we can feed our brains just before we begin.


    Decorate With Motivational Messages

    We are required to either take down or cover our classroom bulletin boards. We choose to cover our walls instead of removing items so that students can look back to the spot on the wall where the resource is hanging and have a visual. We use butcher paper to cover the walls and on the butcher paper, we paint motivational messages reminding students to try hard and do their best.


    During Testing

    Be Prepared

    We pick up our testing materials each morning before school. We make sure that we have at least two sharpened pencils for each student. We also take this time to review the Directions for Administration. On occasion, you might have to flip to a different page to read a question. We use sticky notes to map out the day's testing.


    Feed the Brain

    Prepare a healthy snack for students to munch on as soon as they enter the room. Quick, healthy snacks include string cheese, apples, peanut butter, raisins, carrots, and nuts. After finishing snacks, go outdoors for a brisk walk or run to get the blood flowing to the brain. Finally, be sure to have all students use the restroom.


    Dress for the Occasion

    Wear comfortable tennis shoes. While the students are testing, we are constantly moving around the classroom. We want the students to feel our presence:  we hope that it reminds them to try their best. We also find it helpful to wear an apron. In the apron we carry tissue, sharpened pencils, and spare erasers. If a student raises their hand, we are already equipped.

    Test . . . Then Rest

    Some teachers allow students to read when they have completed a section of their test. We have found that this can create some distractions and can cause students to rush through their test so they can get to their book. We tell our students to "test then rest." This means they may put their heads down and wait quietly once they have completed their test. We start this practice early on in the year so that students have a chance to practice building stamina. 


    After the Test

    Keep Calm and Then Celebrate

    Our students are required to remain in their classrooms until every student in the school has completed their test. This is to prevent any disruptions from occurring. As each class completes that day's test, the teacher calls the office to notify the principal. After every class has called in, our principal makes a schoolwide announcement to notify teachers and students that testing for the day is complete.

    Classrooms that have completed their test must find a quiet activity to do while others finish. During this time, we enjoy reading stories, playing board games, having a little bit of fun, and relaxing. We like to take advantage of this time to do activities and lessons that we didn’t have time for prior to testing. 

    When all is said and done, it is time for us teachers to reward ourselves. We make sure that we plan a day that includes pampering and umbrella drinks at a local spa. (And usually one day is not enough, so we plan a shopping date, too!)

    Are you ready for testing? Please share your tips and tricks. . . . 


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Susan Cheyney