Purposeful test taking strategies can build confidence and help students show what they know on standardized tests. This post shares tips for teaching test taking strategies, the difference between test prep strategies and best practices, and free resources for the specific strategies I teach my students.
Note: I did not create the catchy sayings for the strategies. I have been using variations of ones found online for the past 10 years. If anyone knows of their original creator, please let me know in the comments so I can credit them.
My Philosophy on Teaching Test Taking Strategies
Test taking is not the heart of education, despite how it may seem. I never want my instruction to be meaningless and teaching to a test. However, I do teach my students test taking strategies.
Here are my best tips for teaching test taking strategies (you will probably notice my own personal philosophy embedded in):
1. Embed the test taking strategies all year through the variety of tests given. When my students are about to take a test and I know one of my test taking strategies will benefit them, I introduce it, model it, and then require them to use it on at least half of the problems.
2. Model how to use the test taking strategies. This can be done in several ways:
- Mini-Lessons – I use specific texts and questions to teach each strategy —> more about how you can get the resources I use for free later on in this post
- By Completing a Similar Problem – Before a test, I may write a similar problem as the students will see on the test on my whiteboard and then model the test taking strategy that I want my students to try out.
- By Completing the First Problem on a Test Together – Similar to above, sometimes I will work through a test problem with the students and model the strategy before they complete the rest of the test.
3. Explain why the test taking strategy works and how it benefits students. If students just see a test taking strategy as a “hoop they have to jump through,” they won’t truly understand the purpose and benefit from it.
4. Combine test taking strategies with best practices and authentic instruction in the subject areas (more about this in the next section).
Test Taking Strategies vs. Best Practices
The five test taking strategies I share on this post are not all that students need to be successful on tests. They need to have had best practice instruction in a subject all year. That is a huge topic in itself, but here are a few examples of best practices that need to be in place for students to succeed in testing situations, regardless of what strategies they use:
- Regular use of academic vocabulary when speaking and writing about the subject areas
- Practice with problem solving and real world application
- Use of multiple representations and evidence to defend, clarify, solve problems, and answer questions
- Reading, writing, and talking about books and texts
- Variety of texts used in instruction and for independent reading
When you combine best practice instruction with a few purposefully chosen strategies, you will see a difference in test scores and even student attitudes toward tests.
My Go-To Test Taking Strategies
Now, let’s get into the strategies that I teach my students.
Slash the Trash
Read ALL of the choices. Get rid of any choices you know for sure are wrong. Put a question mark beside the ones you want to consider. Choose the BEST answer from what is left.
“Jail” the Details
Highlight, underline, or circle the details or key words in the questions.
Be Slick and Predict
Predict what the answer is BEFORE you read the choices. Select the choice that is closest to your answer.
Plug It In
Read the answer choices, and plug each choice in to see if it fits. Ask yourself, “Does this make sense?”
Tick Tock…Mind the Clock
Don’t stay stuck on one question. Take your best “thinking guess” and move on. Make a note of the question so that you can go back to it if you have time.
Choosing Test Taking Strategies
The ones I use may be a good start for you and may be what you decide to implement. However, I want to share some tips for how to generate your own strategies based on your students, their needs, and the needs of your assessment.
1. Study your state test. While you are studying the test, think about what test taking strategies would most benefit your students to succeed with the majority of the questions.
2. Analyze the behaviors of your students. What are they currently doing or not doing? What can you teach them that will help them show what they know on a test, ease their anxiety, or help them focus on a test?
3. Use simple strategies to help students focus on what they are missing, help ensure they do what they are not doing, or help them avoid what they are doing that they shouldn’t be. Don’t over complicate it. If the strategy is overcomplicated, students may struggle remembering it and implementing it.
Grab the FREE Test Taking Strategies Printables Here
As I mentioned above, I like to teach these testing strategies throughout the year as my students take tests. However, I also like to have specific lessons to review the strategies before the test.
For test taking strategy lessons, I focus on one strategy per lesson. We read and discuss a short text (variety of fiction and nonfiction) and then answer multiple choice questions that are written specifically for the students to use the test taking strategy of the lesson.
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FREE Test Taking Strategy Resources
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Need Reading Test Prep Resources?
This resource works perfectly for multiple choice test prep review and using the test prep strategies shared on this post.
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Reading Test Prep Task CardsDo you need an engaging test prep reading review that focuses on multiple choice questions? This resource includes 32 reading fiction test prep task cards and 32 nonfiction test prep task cards that focus on 4th and 5th grade reading skills.
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