11 Tips to Prepare Your Students for Fall Testing Season

Thursday, September 1, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

For some students and teachers, high-stakes testing begins early in the year, along with the stress that testing brings. If your students will be taking fall assessments, it’s important to dedicate some time to preparation and review early in the school year. We’ve put together these eleven strategies to help you and your students have a successful fall testing season.

1. Make sure that your students are prepared for next-generation assessments

The days of the basic #2 pencil test have come and gone. In addition to preparing your students for the more rigorous content that next-generation assessments will test, you must be sure that they are prepared for the online format of the test. Make sure that they are familiar with the kinds of devices that assessments will be administered through, that they know how to navigate the test forms, and that they have been exposed to technology-enhanced (TE) item types. Dedicate class time to preparing students for the technical aspects of next-generation assessments so that on test day, they can effectively demonstrate their content knowledge.

2. Know your standards

Cramming is never the best way to learn and retain information. One of the best ways you can help your students succeed on high stakes assessments is to incorporate test prep into your daily instruction throughout the year. In order to do that, it’s important to be closely familiar with your state’s standards, and plan your curriculum and lessons to align. Keep in mind that under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are regaining a significant amount of control over learning standards and assessment; look for news from your local and state department of education to make sure that you’re up to date with the latest standards.

3. Benchmark your learners

Benchmark assessments can help you identify which learners are on track or ahead of grade level and which ones have knowledge gaps. These assessments are particularly important at the start of the school year, when you’re just getting to know your learners. They can also help you develop effective plans for review sessions, even on the tighter timeline of fall testing.

4. Practice, practice, practice!

The cliché is true: practice does make perfect. Create a review plan that provides multiple chances for students to practice not only the content they will need to know but also the testing format. Make sure that your plan includes modalities beyond taking practice tests—games, writing, and speech exercises can help students retain information and gain a deeper understanding of concepts. The more exposure that students have to the material and testing environment, the more comfortable they will be when testing day arrives.

5. Leverage your data

Chances are that you have access to a significant amount of data on your students, whether it is data from previous exams or data collected in the classroom using online programs. If your school uses the same online solutions across grade levels, find out if you can access data on your students’ progress from previous years to flesh out your understanding of where they are at early in the school year. Make use of this data to differentiate instruction and track students’ progress as you review. Real-time data generated from your review activities can also help you evaluate your strategy and refine it from week to week to meet students’ needs.

6. Embrace the power of previewing

Your students are probably familiar with the strategy of previewing text before diving in, and it can be a very helpful strategy for testing, especially given the increased focus on testing for deeper understanding. Encourage your students to preview test sections before answering questions to help pace themselves and give their brains time to absorb the information. It is also a very important strategy for students to be successful on the new interactive question types, which come with their own sets of directions.

7. Let parents help

It’s no secret that parental involvement plays a huge role in students’ academic success, and this can certainly extend to success on assessments. Involve parents in your classroom test preparation activities by communicating with them on a regular basis about what you (and their child) are doing to get ready. This gives parents the opportunity to engage with their children about what is happening in class and to convey ways in which they can help their child at home. Want more tips on how parents can help with test prep efforts? Check out this blog post!

8. Keep testing in perspective

Testing puts a lot of pressure on students, and this can have a significant impact on their performance. One of the best ways to manage your students’ stress about testing is to help them understand the purpose of testing, and give them some perspective about the experience. Emphasize that anxiety about tests is entirely normal, and remind them that test results are not a blanket ruling on their overall learning progress. Administering formative assessments frequently and in varied formats can be an effective way to offer students regular feedback to support this, while also helping them develop the skills they need.

9. Create a culture of positivity

As Henry Ford is credited for saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” Start getting students thinking about what will happen when they meet their testing goals instead of getting caught up in the nervousness of testing. Perhaps squeeze in a quick writing assignment asking students to picture themselves graduating high school/going to college/having a cool job. The mind is a powerful weapon, and it has a unique gift for making things happen that don’t seem possible.

10. Add “catering manager” to your resume

A lot of research has been done on the effects of food (specifically, lack of food) and test performance. Make sure that students are well fed at the start of every testing day. Encourage them to eat a good breakfast at home (tell their parents too!), stock up on granola bars, or consider bringing bagels for your class. On a similar note, make sure that your students are hydrated—studies show that students need a sip of water every 10 minutes when they are working. 

11. Calm stress with movement and meditation

Movement and meditation have been found to be outstanding stress relievers, and incorporating both into your review sessions can go a long way to improve students’ retention. Teach your students some simple breathing exercises, make a short mindfulness practice part of your routine, or lead your students through a brief series of yoga postures. These kind of practices have been shown to increase attention, focus, and emotional regulation, which can pay big dividends when exams roll around. On testing day, give your students the chance to move around before the test begins to help alleviate the pressure. You can also look into seated stretching techniques and share them with your students to use during the test. This video from Mayo Clinic provides some great tips. 

Looking for an online solution to aid in your test prep efforts? Study Island and Edmentum Assessments offer formative assessment capabilities, targeted content for individualized learning, and real-time reporting to support data-driven instruction. Check out this resource on individualized test preparation to learn more!