Test Prep Tips

It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air… which means (cue the scary music) testing season is, too.

Preparing for high-stakes standardized assessments can spark anxiety in even the most seasoned among us – and we’re not the ones taking the tests! Recent back-and-forth negotiations at the state level may take some of the pressure off, but for now, the tests are as inevitable as April showers.

So, what’s the best way to approach the tests? To borrow a phrase from the Boy Scouts (and a song from “The Lion King”):

Be prepared.  Here are three of my favorite ways to prepare for standardized assessments.

Preparation Tip #1:  "Test Prep" all year long.
I like to teach my students test-taking strategies throughout the entire year.  One of my very favorite strategies that I made up during my first year grading standardized assessments is the "READ" strategy.  It's how I help students respond to short-response questions.  When students respond to a short-answer question they need to write four sentences.  Each sentence corresponds to one of the letters in the word READ.  

This strategy has been life-changing for students.  It makes responding to questions so much easier.  And the coolest part?  They can use the READ strategy when developing paragraphs for extended responses, too.

We start practicing the READ strategy at the start of the school year.  Students learn about it in this Speech Analysis and Writing Unit, practice it during this Listening Comprehension Unit, and they master it in this Test Prep Mini-Unit.  My students LOVE the READ strategy.  In fact, when students visit my classroom when they're in high school, they always mention how they still use the READ strategy.  How cool is that?

Preparation Tip #2:  Don't forget the skills.
When I dreamed of being an English teacher I thought I'd spend my days reading literature with students or teaching students to write incredible writing pieces.  It's turns out, that while I can do some of that with my students, middle schoolers still need practice with the skills needed to be a critical reader and writer.  So, that's why I love infusing mini-units that target specific skills throughout the entire year.  I like to sprinkle in lessons on HOW to read and write throughout the school year.  Since students will definitely be asked to demonstrate that they can comprehend what they are reading on their state assessments, it only makes sense to teach them HOW to do it.

My favorites for teaching critical reading skills are these 12 reading comprehension mini-units and this set of mini-units on literary devices.

Preparation Tip #3:  Make it fun.
Let's face it, the tests are not going anywhere anytime soon.  That's why I've adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude.  When the state tests are right around the corner I like to get students pumped about the assessment.  It's our academic Homecoming Game, so we go all out to make it fun. Here are some of the ways that we make state assessments celebratory:

- Decorate the hallways and classrooms with motivational signs and decor
- Host a breakfast with healthy foods to give students an energy boost on the days of the tests
- Have students make locker signs for one another that provide some testing motivation
- Make motivational pencil flags for students' pencils
- Designate testing days as pajama days (perfect to make the day feel special and a great way to discuss the need for sleep)

The idea is to make standardized assessments about celebrating what students know.   So, instead of a high-pressure, high-stakes couple of days, I like to make it all about support and motivation.

Here's a link to the motivational poster template that my students use when creating locker posters for their peers (these could be great on the back of students' chairs or hanging around the room, too.)  Click HERE to download the template for FREE!

It's true, standardized assessments are a little scary, but I've found that with a bit of preparation they can be a ton more bearable and even a little fun!

Wishing you and your students luck this testing season!

Mary Beth

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