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March 21, 2014 Test Taking Strategies in Reading Workshop By Rhonda Stewart
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    All of us look at the onset of spring as a moment to celebrate the upcoming warm weather. We welcome the budding trees, blossoming flowers, and birds singing. But for me, spring also reminds me that the state assessments are just around the corner.

    In New Jersey, grade six students will be taking our state assessments, commonly known as the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge or NJ ASK in May. State assessments have been around for years, but it seems that there is more at stake to achieve proficiency than ever before. In our common planning meetings, teachers are ramping up to prepare the students. This is not to say that preparation hasn’t occurred throughout the year. It has. It just seems that there is a laser sharp focus to arm the students with the proper tools needed to take the TEST!!!!

    Our unit of study that focuses on this is titled, Test Preparation. Personally I like the phrase, Test Sophistication. Sounds fancy, don’t you think? The term speaks to the importance of the topic without sounding so humdrum. As I begin to dive in and begin this work with my students, I revisit some of the strategies that I taught last year and devise a plan to rollout to my students. By no means is this work done in isolation. If I could offer any advice this year, especially for new teachers, it would be that for this unit you definitely want to plan with your colleagues. The tips that I am about to share are developed from the collaborative work with my fellow teachers. We continue to tweak the unit to meet the needs of our students.


    Test-Taking Teacher Tips

    Following Directions — This activity really drives home how important it is to “Follow the Directions.” Students will race through this without reading the directions only to find a surprise ending. I am including a couple versions. Have fun with this. I am planning to try this one that I found from (I have modified the quiz from the website to make it easier to use)

    Introduce Test Taking Language — Last year, one of my colleagues shared this vocabulary site, with our team. It was a huge hit with teachers and students. This site also has other resources that you can use not only for test taking, but for the entire year. The chart below was created after viewing the video from this website.


    Anchor Charts — I am a HUGE fan of anchor charts and their role in instruction. My colleague, Tiffeny Andrews, is the Guru of test taking charts. Whenever I need an anchor chart to come to life, there she is ready to help. Tiffeny has a way of taking an idea and creating fun charts to engage the students. 


    Develop Acronyms — Acronyms assist students with methods to approach the TEST. A popular one in my building in the literacy department is RASC (restate, answer, support, close). Anchor chart courtesy of Ms. Andrews


    Simulate Testing Conditions — Do not wait for the day of the assessment to arrange your classroom for the assessment. My students are able to arrange the class for test taking mode for assessments given during the year. It is not something new,something familiar even during the state assessment. 

    Ease the Tension/Stress — Infuse some enjoyable activities to reinforce your teaching. I have used Jeopardy with my classes and they love it.  Most of the time they don't even realize that they are using the strategies taught in class to play the game.

    Reading is just one section or part of our state assessment. Next week, I will focus on test taking in writing workshop.

    As always, do you have any ideas or test taking strategies that work with your students, please share!


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Susan Cheyney