Easing Into Test Prep Season
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
It’s inevitable. No matter how diligently you work, starting from day one, test prep anxiety will arise around this time of year. Have you done enough to prepare your students? Do your students have strategies under their belts that will help them do their very best? In this post, you'll find the test-taking habits and strategies I'm building into our schedule now.
No one will deny the importance of teaching strong comprehension strategies and modeling them for our students. We typically teach these strategies using rich literature that inspires and motivates. Of course, this should be where our focus remains when creating lesson plans, but test prep passages are an altogether different beast. They need explicit instruction and students need time to practice. Below are a few of the methods and thinking points you may want to use in the upcoming months.
"Click and Clunk" for Understanding
One of the strategies my students use on a weekly basis is the "click and clunk" method. While whisper reading (typically a guided reading book), students will quietly add the word “click” at the end of each sentence to show they understood what they just read. "Clunks," on the other hand, indicate that specific reading strategies are being used to decode and attack for understanding. I believe this has been a really beneficial strategy. For one thing, my students communicate their misunderstandings and confusions much more openly and frequently than before.
For test prep, we modify this strategy somewhat. I provide students with time to read passages independently and to use check marks at the end of each line to indicate that they understand what they are reading. Because many students are anxious or worn down while testing, it is easy for their minds to lose focus and comprehension. I hope that with practice this strategy can be used effectively without taking any additional time during the actual test.
Labeling "Right There" Questions
There is only one time I would be happy to see low-level comprehension questions, and that is on a standardized test. Now, most states have designed it so there are few direct and literal questions on the test, but those questions still make up a portion of the test. The good news is that we can expect complete mastery of these questions from every student by helping them to recognize and identify these “gimme” questions.
Questions that can be answered by looking back at the text, such as sequencing and character description questions, should be identified as “right there” questions. Questions that require inference skills and higher-order thoughts are "stop and think" questions. I have my students practice reading a passage and then identifying questions as “RT” for "right there" questions or “ST” for "stop and think."
If a question is identified as an “RT” question, students are required to go back into the text and underline where they found the correct answer. If you practice this strategy enough, students will easily identify “RT” questions. So the ONLY time they will miss one of these is when they don’t go back and underline where they found the answer. Take time to make that a habit now!
Know Your Text Structure
In their article "No Pain, High Gain," Nell K. Duke and Ron Ritchhart provide excellent strategies for teaching students to quickly locate the answers to comprehension questions. They write, "Many test passages are written in a standard format; understanding that format will give students a leg up in reading passages and locating answers." For instance, you can point out that for questions about a problem in the story, they should look in the middle of a passage. For questions about when the story happens, they should look at the beginning. These simple observations will avoid a situation in which a student is rereading the entire passage in order to answer each question.
Relieving Stress and Test Anxiety
Last year I had several students who really struggled with test anxiety. So much, in fact, that I asked our school counselor to address this in class. One of the things she taught my students was how to do breathing and stretching techniques while sitting in a chair. She also guided us through a quick yoga session shortly before the test began. It changed the entire environment in our classroom and really made a difference. I recommend you collaborate with your counselor to see how they can help you combat test stress. They may not teach yoga, but there will be plenty of other strategies they can teach!
Each year I dedicate a post to test prep, and two posts in particular deserve to be mentioned here. "Five Ways to Make Standardized Test Prep Engaging" and "Preparing Students for Standardized Tests" focus on making test prep fun and engaging. In them, you'll find printable resources, tips on creating test survival kits for your students, suggestions on organizing before or after school study sessions, and games and strategies to brighten up the test prep scene. You might also check out "Are Your Students Working Hard? Time for a 'Break' Dance!"
What strategies do you teach your students during test prep season? Leave your tips below!