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Test Prep Without Test Prep: Preparing Students Without Drills

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Test preparation, fair or not, can have a negative connotation in some circles. To some, drilling kids on test-taking strategies takes the art and creativity out of teaching. Others say that if you’ve been doing your job effectively over the course of the year, then you don’t need to worry about the test.

All of those things may be true, but there are still ways to prepare your students for test day (or, more accurately, test days) without endless workbooks full of drills.

Integrate movement into the day

You know that exercise alleviates stress (even if you might not practice it yourself). You also probably know that gym class is no longer as strenuous or frequent as it once was. So what are students to do?

Getting that last bit of information in class before the big tests can be stressful for students. A bit of movement can help to alleviate the pressure. Even if students don’t get the opportunity to move around during testing, moving in class can have a positive effect on knowledge retention. Give students an opportunity to “shake it out” during your class periodically. There are also plenty of learning strategies that integrate movement into lessons.

Start using triggers

The brain searches for any associations it can find in an effort to retrieve information. You know how a certain smell can bring back memories you thought you had forgotten? The same works for academic knowledge. For example, if students munch on peppermint candies during class and then during the test, it might help them to retrieve information at crunch time.

The trigger you choose has to be available to students during test time (which probably eliminates music), but if you make it available to students during class, then the information you’re giving them will be filed along with it. Smells work just as well as tastes. Even visuals (like wearing the same shirt when administering the test as you were wearing during the lesson) can have an effect.

Previewing as practice

Students should already be familiar with the strategy of previewing text before diving in. Checking out the table of contents, chapter titles, and index can tell a lot about a text. The same works for non-literary texts, like math chapters and science articles.

Familiarity with this practice can help during testing as well. Teach students to preview a test section before starting to answer questions. It can help them to pace themselves (so they don’t run out of time or rush), and it gives the brain the opportunity to start retrieving information in the background while answering other questions.

Stay positive!

Finally, maintaining a positive attitude throughout the year is a great way to model behavior for the students. When the going gets tough (as it might during the tests), staying positive can make a big difference.

For more great ideas surrounding the topic of test preparation, download our test taking checklists for elementary or secondary students.