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Top 10 Tips to Prepare Learners for High-Stakes Testing

Thursday, November 16, 2017 -- Sarah Cornelius

High-stakes testing—it will never be a fan favorite among educators or students. However, it is a necessary undertaking, providing instructors with insight into where students’ areas of strength and weakness truly lie, and providing administrators and legislators with meaningful data to assist in evaluating standards and curriculum. High-stakes assessments do serve an important purpose, and students’ performance on these exams matters.

So, what can you do to ensure that your learners are set up for success when the next round of high-stakes tests rolls around? We’ve put together our top ten tips to prepare learners, and keep everyone’s stress levels under control!

1. Make sure that your students are prepared for online test formats

The days of the basic #2 pencil test have come and gone. States are working to not only test students on more rigorous, applicable content within next-generation assessments, but they’re also moving these tests to online formats. Make sure that your learners 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. Benchmark your learners

Administering benchmark assessments several times throughout the school year can help you identify which learners are on track or ahead of grade level and which ones have knowledge gaps. They can also help you develop a plan for conducting effective review sessions that will target the specific skills and concepts your students need to work on.

3. 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 activities that cover multiple modalities—games, writing, and speech exercises can help students retain information and gain a deeper understanding of concepts. The more exposure that students have to both the material and testing environment, the more comfortable they will be when testing day arrives.

4. 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. Make use of this data to differentiate instruction and track students’ progress as you review. It can also help you evaluate your review strategy and refine it from week to week to more effectively meet students’ needs.

5. Provide students with incentives

A reward system can take some of the anxiety out of test preparation, add a little fun to your review efforts, and create a healthy dose of competition to keep your students motivated. Set specific goals for students to meet, and give them something to look forward to when they meet them—be it a treat, game time, or any other kind of incentive you use in your classroom. If you need inspiration check out these ideas to create the perfect classroom contest

6. Embrace the power of previewing

Your students are probably familiar with the strategy of previewing text before diving in, and this can be a very effective approach for testing. Encourage your students to preview test sections before answering questions to help pace themselves and give their brains time to absorb the information. This method can also be helpful to students as they tackle TE item types, which often come with more complex, multi-step instructions.

7. Let parents help

It’s no secret that parent 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 children) are doing to get ready. This gives parents the opportunity to engage with their children about what is happening in class and take advantage of opportunities to help at home.

8. 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.” Growth mindset is a critical component of testing success. Get students to think about what will happen when they meet their testing goals instead of getting caught up in the nervousness of test day. Think about squeezing in a quick writing assignment asking students to picture themselves next year in reading fluently, taking honors classes, graduating, going to college, landing a cool job, or any other outcomes that are applicable. The mind is a powerful weapon, and it has a unique gift for making things happen that don’t always seem possible.

9. Add “catering manager” to your resume

A lot of research has been done on the effects of food (or more specifically, lack of it) 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—and tell their parents too! As a backup, consider stocking up on granola bars and whole fruit, or consider bringing bagels for your class on the morning of the test. 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. 

10. Keep students moving

We all know that exercise is a great stress reliever. Incorporate regular movement into your review sessions to improve students’ retention. On testing day, give your students the chance to move around before the exam 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, Edmentum’s state-standards aligned program for classroom practice and assessment, can provide your students with the targeted instruction they need to succeed on high-stakes exams. Check it out for yourself—start a FREE trial today!