It’s fair to say that few people actually like test prep. It’s one of those necessary evils of student and teacher life. While there’s not much we can do to take the tedium out of test prep, we can make it more efficient and effective. Here’s how.
“As with most skills and accomplishments, research shows test scores are usually not a product of a child's innate talent, but rather of steady preparation,” explains Debbie Stier, author of The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT. Most schools offer practice sessions for state end-of-grade (EOG) or end-of-course (EOC) exams — some required, some optional — and, Stier says, “the most exclusive test prep companies have their students take 15 or more full tests before ever taking an official test.”
Encourage students to practice longer at home using up-to-date standardized test prep books — preferably the official ones — and online or printed practice tests.
Even hour-long tests tax some students’ endurance. Longer tests like the SAT or ACT can be even more daunting. It’s important to build endurance by re-creating exact testing conditions when practicing, with students seated at a table or desk and limited, timed breaks. “It’s essential to endurance train, as you would if you were preparing for a marathon,” says Stier.
Many students freak out under time pressure on tests. Help them perform better by creating opportunities for timed work in your classroom throughout the year. Teach them how to estimate the time they have for each section so they get the most done. Start with short blocks of time for writing, reading or problem solving, and then lengthen the time as focus and endurance improve. If you give homework, suggest time frames for that, too.
Ask students to talk about how they’re feeling emotionally and physically during timed work. Then teach them breathing and other skills to stay calm and focus.
One of the biggest challenges, according to Melanie O’Donohue, owner of Midwest College Prep in Lenexa, KS, is information covered several grades ago or not yet covered. “One of the major things is not having enough math prep,” she says. “Students have either forgotten how to add or subtract fractions because they haven’t done it in so long, or they can’t do trigonometry because they haven’t covered it yet. Or basic rules of grammar, like when to use a semi-colon or a colon. It’s simple stuff, but it’s important because it’s on the test.”
Help by offering short work sessions during class or homework assignments that focus on the foundation or core skills covered on the standardized tests.
Give students an opportunity to exhibit how well they know certain subjects as often as possible. Cynthia Fabian, an author and retired English teacher in New York, used portfolios “so students can write and rewrite — and see that growth throughout the school year.” This creates multiple opportunities to teach kids how to write and revise quickly, which can dramatically improve short-answer and essay sections of tests. “It’s not only what you have to know, but you have to write essays, and write quickly,” she says.
Sounds counter intuitive, maybe, but we want students putting in the extra reps where they’ll do the most good, right? As their teacher, you know where they need improvement, so share that information. Also, teach them to analyze their incorrect answers on practice standardized tests so they understand what they need to study more. Stier suggests one way to do this is pop quizzes in all disciplines, which keep students on their toes and help you and them assess their knowledge. You can also give them homework or in-class work time assignments that focus on those topics.
“Prepping for tests has always been a dreaded chore for teachers and students alike,” Fabian laments. Use these tips and make it less painful for everyone.</p>
Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.blog comments powered by Disqus