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4 Last-Minute Strategies to Prepare Your Students for High-Stakes Testing

Monday, November 20, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

Here’s the situation—test day is right around the corner. You want to do everything in your power to ensure that your students are set up for success, but you’re running short on time. What are the best steps to take?

Assuming that your curriculum is aligned to relevant standards and you’ve been following it all year, cramming shouldn’t be necessary. If anything, cramming could increase any test-related anxiety your students may already be facing.

High-stakes exams can feel like a marathon to young children, sitting in their desks for potentially multiple hours, expected to quietly concentrate the entire time. So, instead of frantically reviewing content, focus your limited time on preparing students for the experience of taking the test. Here are four tips that will help your students train for the “marathon.”

Create a culture of positivity before the test

As the old saying goes, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Help your students get in the right mindset by asking them to think about what will happen when they meet their testing goals. Perhaps squeeze in a quick writing assignment asking students to picture themselves achieving some kind of academic goal, such as taking honors classes next year, graduating, being accepted to a college, or landing a cool internship. The mind is a powerful tool, and taking time to envision success can go a long way toward making it a reality

Administer a practice test

Practice tests are a great way to prepare students for testing procedures, primarily because they give students a chance to get comfortable with the test format. Especially in the case of online tests, it’s critical for students to be familiar with the type of device they’ll be using, online test navigation, and technology-enhanced item types they may encounter.

Additionally, a practice round gives students some insight into timing. Most children don’t know what an hour (or any other time limit) feels like. They might get on a roll, look up at the clock, realize they only have 10 minutes left and rush through the rest of the section. Practice helps them understand what they can get done in a certain amount of time.

Also, testing often requires teachers to speak from a script. This can be distracting for students who are used to their teachers being much more casual. Find an old script, and get your students accustomed to what a testing period actually sounds like.

Brush up on breathing and stretching

Have you ever sat in your classroom desks? If you have, you know that stretching can offer some serious relief to tired students. Spend some time researching effective stretching while seated, like this video from the Mayo Clinic, and then share the techniques with your students. Breathing exercises have also been proven to lower stress levels in 10 minutes or less; plus, they can help get students’ brains fully oxygenated and calm nerves. Not only will your students thank you at the end of testing week, but they will also respond with improved focus and (hopefully) higher scores.

Stock up on supplies now

Food is fuel, and if your students skip breakfast, hunger can quickly become a major source of distraction on test day. Organize your colleagues and make a concerted effort to provide some healthy, hearty snacks for students on test day (trail mix, granola bars, and fruit are all easy options). Look for sales at warehouse clubs and grocery stores to keep the bill in check.

And, of course, plenty of students will forget to bring pencils for the test. If you still test using paper (or students are able to use scratch paper), start looking for deals on the good old No. 2s now—it’s likely you’ll save the day for at least one student when the testing period rolls around.

Even with the best planning and preparation, there is no way around the stress of testing. Don’t let it get the best of your students—check out this blog post of 6 Tips for Teachers to Help Students Manage Stress!