Teaching Test Prep Strategies

Teaching test prep strategies and mindset should be a key part of upper elementary teachers’ “repertoire” if they teach a testing grade.  That being said, we need to keep our test prep in perspective. Although the tests DO have purposes (no, folks, they aren’t ALL bad), many schools and districts go a little over the top.

8 Strategies for meaningful test prep

The Emotional Side of Test Prep for Studentstest prep strategies and lessons

  • Prepare Students Mentally: Educate students about the purpose of standardized tests to help reduce anxiety. Remind them that these tests only measure a small part of being a student. Many students also don’t understand that one purpose of testing is for districts to monitor their curriculum. When I explain this–it provides some relief.
  • Create a Positive Testing Environment: Ensure testing environments are calm, comfortable, and free from distractions to help students focus better and perform at their best. I keep myself calm and cheerful and tell my students that I have prepared them and they are ready!

What does teaching test prep really mean?

  • Provide Ample Preparation: Offer practice tests and review sessions to familiarize students with the test format, types of questions, and time constraints. This can help them feel more confident on test day. This can turn into a negative if not done carefully. I’ve heard of schools abandoning regular curriculum for weeks and weeks of test prep. That is NOT the right approach! Small doses of test strategy work and practice is sufficient. If your state has approved sample tests, these are a great way to showcase problem types, testing tools, and so on
  • Emphasize Understanding over Memorization: Encourage deeper learning by focusing on conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. This can help students perform better on standardized tests that assess critical thinking skills. Helping students learn to tackle unfamiliar problems is key–that way they are ready to try any problem they are faced with!
  • Integrate Test Skills into Curriculum: Seamlessly integrate test-taking strategies and skills practice into regular classroom activities. This can ensure that students are well-equipped to tackle standardized tests without additional stress. I often work practice multiple choice questions into my lessons to talk about strategies. I provide activities in different formats. I model my own thinking to help students learn to have that little “voice” in their heads as they try different types of questions.

Don’t forget about growth mindset lessons!Growth mindset strategies for test prep

  • Encourage a Growth Mindset: Foster a positive attitude toward challenges and mistakes, emphasizing the value of effort, perseverance, and learning from failures, which can lead to improved performance on standardized tests. I start the year with a ton of work focused on growth mindset, but I bring it back several more times–and during test season we dig back in.  Read THIS ARTICLE for even more about the topic.
  • Promote Healthy Habits: Encourage students to maintain a balanced lifestyle with sufficient sleep, nutritious meals, and regular physical activity, as these factors can positively impact cognitive function and test performance. I make sure all students get a breakfast and a healthy snack. In addition, I make sure I communicate with families about stressing sleep during this time.
  • Advocate for Fairness and Equity: Ensure that testing procedures are fair, unbiased, and culturally sensitive. I make sure that I consider the needs of my students when doing test prep so that students get what they need to help them do their best. From making sure everyone is fed to considering seating arrangements, words of encouragement, consideration of students with special needs of any kind–I want to make sure every child has what s/he needs to show what they know.


Teacher Tips for Testing Weeks

That’s quite a list. I think what’s key is that we remind ourselves as teachers of a few things.

  1. The tests DO have a purpose.
  2. The tests should get your attention in that you need to make sure you are doing what you need to for your students.
  3. Good teaching is the best form of test prep.
  4. Students will pick up your “vibes”–so keep calm, keep it in perspective.
  5. During testing days, find fun and engaging lessons to balance out the stress when testing is finished. I stress things that are creative, hands-on, and collaborat

Keeping things in perspective…

Remember, testing students can help us understand how students are progressing in many academic areas. In addition, they can help our schools and districts reflect on teaching practices, curriculum decisions, pacing, and more.  Keeping a healthy perspective and striving for GOOD TEACHING will ensure your students do their very best on their testing without days and days of mindless test prep.

Interested in some of the tools I use?

My Growth Mindset Toolkit is filled with activities and tools to use all year long to help students learn the language and beliefs of a growth mindset.  Click HERE or the image below to learn more.

Growth mindset activities, teaching growth mindset

If you are looking for activities to use during testing season that help students recognize that creativity and innovative thinking are just as important as filling in the blank!  These creativity challenges are so much fun and so easy to prepare!

Creativity activities, teaching creativity

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