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by Barbara Gruber, M.A. & Sue Gruber, M.A.
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Teach Children Test-taking Skills
Currently, there is a strong focus on standards and testing. In many schools, tests are everything! No matter how teachers feel about tests, children are going to be tested. In this article, the focus is on helping children perform better in testing situations. Test-taking skills can be taught, practiced and perfected. We'll show you some easy ways to help your students feel relaxed and prepared without creating extra work for yourself. Teachers can help students perform better on tests by teaching specific test-taking skills.
Time to Listen
If children are fidgeting with items inside their desks or doodling with their pencils, you do not have their full attention. This classroom-management strategy teaches your students how to pay attention when you say "Time to listen." This is an easy routine to teach your class and it comes in handy when giving directions for taking tests. Model for your students how you want them to position themselves when you give directions. In our classes, when we say "Time to listen," children must fold their hands on desktops, look at the teacher and listen. As soon as you have finished giving directions, you can say "Time to work" to signal children to start working. Teach this routine to the class and have students practice this important routine so it becomes automatic. You'll use this classroom management technique every day all through the year.
All About Tests
Talk with your class about the kinds of tests people take throughout their lives such as tests for employment and driver's licensing tests. Share some of your test-taking experiences. Tell the class how you feel when you have to take the test to renew your driver's license. Have children talk about feelings they have experienced during tests. Help children understand that they will take tests from time to time throughout their lives. Learning to take tests is a life skill everyone needs to learn.
Hold class discussions about tests. When children have a better understanding of tests, they are more relaxed during testing. Explain to the class that there are many kinds of tests. Tell the class about teacher-created tests. Explain that the tests tell teachers if children understand concepts or if teachers need to teach them again. When you give a teacher-created test, you can tell your class, "I created this test to help me figure out if you understand two-place multiplication. Then, I'll know if we need to spend more time working on it." Tell the class about commercially-made tests that the school district buys from testing companies. Tell children what the school is trying to figure out from the test results. Let children know that tests are designed with some questions that are purposely too hard for them to answer.
Many children feel very alone when they take tests. They believe they are the only ones who feel nervous and don't know all the answers. After testing, hold a class discussion about the tests. It is reassuring to hear about feelings and concerns classmates experienced during testing.
Taking Timed Tests
You can alleviate test anxiety by giving children certain experiences as part of the regular instructional program. Many tests are timed; therefore, children need many experiences taking timed tests. We think it's a good idea to have timed test experiences once or twice a week all through the year. Many teachers do this with three-minute math tests for addition, subtraction or multiplication. You can level the tests and when children get a certain number correct they can move up to the next level. Children become familiar with having a specific number of minutes to work. When they take timed tests during standardized testing, they are already experienced at working within time limits.
Many children know the answers but are confused by formats and mark answers incorrectly. Look at the formats on the tests your students will take. Do they include multiple choice, filling in bubbles beside correct answers or drawing lines to match questions and answers? Give students opportunities to use similar formats. Look at the commercial reproducible products about test-taking skills in school supply stores. Give students practice using similar formats to the test formats they will encounter.
If your test program includes practice tests, use them according to the directions provided by the test publisher. If permissible, after taking the practice tests, go over the tests together. Discuss the test formats and anything that was confusing about the tests. This is an opportunity to focus on reading and following directions, writing answers properly and working within time limits.
If commercial tests include multiple choice questions, be sure to include multiple choice questions in teacher-created tests. Then, children will be familiar with multiple choice questions and answers. When discussing stories, write multiple choice questions on the chalkboard and work together as a group answering those questions. Model for students how to read the question, underline key words in the question, read the possible answers, eliminate answers you know are wrong, and choose the correct answer.
Words and phrases used on tests can also confuse children. They know the concepts but the terminology on the tests gets in the way of understanding how to answer questions. Scan over tests to see if there are any words or phrases that will be unfamiliar to your students. If so, be sure to use those words in the context of lessons so children know what they mean.
Using Markers and Private Offices
If the test format is visually confusing, have children use oaktag markers to underline questions. Create private offices by taping two file folders together to make "study carrels" for students to use on desktops. You can also make private offices from three sides of cardboard boxes. Many children can concentrate better when they have study carrels on their desks.
Studying for Tests
There are some tests you can study for such as a test on a state history unit your fourth grade class just completed. You could generate a list of possible questions with your class and then hold a class discussion about the questions and answers. You can pair up students and have them take turns asking each other questions. After the discussion, you could give a practice test. Read questions aloud and have children write answers to the questions. Then, have children make corrections on their own papers as you discuss answers with the group. By holding a review session as a class activity, you are modeling how children can study independently for tests.
Getting Ready for Tests
Focusing on test-taking skills just prior to taking tests creates anxiety for many children. Instead, make test-taking skills part of your instructional program all through the year. Hold class discussions about tests. We recommend creating charts about test-taking as shown below. Include this information in your newsletters to parents. Talk about ways people can prepare themselves so they can do their best on tests. You can reread the charts and hold discussions prior to testing.
Getting Ready for Tests
- Get a good night's sleep.
- Eat breakfast.
- Come to school on time.
- Listen carefully to the directions.
- Read directions and questions carefully.
- Remember no one knows every answer.
- Tests do not tell how smart you are.
- Tests are important---how much you learn is more important.
How to Take Tests
- Have two sharp pencils and an eraser.
- Read directions and follow them. Underline key words in the directions.
- Read the question and all the answers before you pick one. Underline key words in the questions.
- If you feel nervous, take a slow, deep breath.
- Don't get stuck---keep going! If you don't know an answer, skip it.
- Do as many questions as you can. Then, go back and try to do the questions you skipped. Pick answers that make the most sense.
- If you have extra time, check over your answers.
After tests, give children opportunities to share their feelings about the tests. Children can share which test-taking strategies they employed during the tests. They can talk about what was easy and most difficult about the tests. Children are reassured when they learn that others encountered difficulty with some parts of the tests.
Do Tests Match the Skills You Teach?
Often children are tested on skills that have not yet been introduced. If second graders are tested in February on skills taught in May, the test is a mismatch for that part of your curriculum. You can ignore test results on that specific skill or start teaching the skill prior to the test. But, if children have not yet been taught the skill the question is not valid for your class.
Keeping Track of Skills Instruction
Every teacher has used complicated flow charts, skills continua, and time-consuming checklists. Teachers have long lists of reading, writing and math skills they must teach. In our classrooms, we needed ways to keep track of which skills we had introduced and reinforced. Through trial and error, we came up with a "Skills-check System" that was simple to create and easy to use. We made "Skills-check System" clipboards for reading, writing and math skills. Try our Skills-check System to see if helps you keep track of which skills you have introduced and reinforced. For example, to keep track of writing skills, label a clipboard "Writing Skills" and place lined paper under the clip. List all the writing skills you are required to teach at your grade level in a column on the left side of the paper. Write "Skills to Teach" at the top of this column. Then, create a second column labeled "Introduced." This narrow column just needs to be wide enough to make checkmarks. Then, make an additional wider column labeled "Reinforced." Before making any marks on your Skills-check System, photocopy it so you have a master copy to reproduce for next year. Then, you won't have to start over and rewrite the entire list of writing skills. You'll have a ready-to-reproduce skills list to reuse.
Keep your Skills-check System clipboards handy. At a glance, you can see the list of skills you need to cover. When you introduce a skill, make a check mark in the "Introduced" column. Every time you provide practice and reinforcement on this skill, make a check mark in the "Reinforced" columns.
At a glance, you'll see which skills you still need to teach and which skills you need to reinforce. Instead of checkmarks, some teachers prefer to write dates in the columns. The Skills-check System is especially helpful if you are team teaching because it gives instant information about skills that have and have not been introduced.
Test-taking skills are tools children can use to boost success when taking tests. Start teaching these skills to your students tomorrow so they can be the best test-takers they can possibly be!
We hope this article gave you practical ideas to help your students be more prepared and confident when taking tests.
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Barbara Gruber & Sue Gruber
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