Test Preparation & Test-Taking Strategies
Study Skills Support
What are Test Preparation and Test-Taking Strategies?
Test preparation and test-taking strategies are those processes that help to optimize your child’s performance on a variety of academic tests. Throughout your child’s academic career, and to some degree, in a variety of career pursuits, he/she will be expected to demonstrate his/her knowledge or skills on a test. While some tests are more performance-oriented by nature (a driver’s education test comes to mind), most tests are paper-pencil. There are many different types of tests: standardized tests, unit/chapter tests, formative assessments, and summative assessments to name a few. There are also many different formats for taking tests: true/false, short answer, essay, matching, constructed response, multiple choice, etc. and each format has its own set of suggestions to enhance performance. Finally, working with your child to develop the appropriate mind-set and level of confidence for taking the test may be your most important contribution as a parent.
Help your child to understand that preparing and taking tests is an ongoing process. It typically occurs, in various forms or another, throughout students’ formal educational experience. Relegating testing to the routine, helps to diminish the anxiety invoked when testing is viewed as an extraordinary event.
Acknowledge the reality of test anxiety and work to minimize its effects on your child. Test anxiety is a natural by-product of the test-taking process and often focuses students in a manner that is beneficial. However, for some students, test anxiety can be paralyzing. In those instances, special support is needed.
Reinforce information your child has been given about the various types of tests and the strategies involved in taking each type. If your child seems to lack information about a particular type of test, provide that background and any tips to enhance success.
Offer to be a “study buddy” for your child, reviewing class notes and formulating possible test questions. Your child may even benefit from the development of “mock tests”.
Encourage “distributed practice” vs. “massed practice” in studying for tests. This implies that it is more effective to review notes and hand-outs on a regular basis (a little at a time) rather than plan to wait and study everything the night before the test. This is a particularly difficult lesson for students to learn and regularly practice.
Help your child to understand his/her areas of strength/weakness. In various test-taking experiences, this understanding may give your child much needed confidence or support a plan of attack.
Provide your child with the necessary test-taking supports: adequate rest, high-energy diet, and required materials (pens, pencils, scratch paper, calculators, etc.)
Instill confidence in your child’s ability to be successful. Repetitive study sessions to practice the necessary skills and application of knowledge greatly support this process.
Send a message of ‘optimal performance’ or ‘personal best’ regardless of what other students may be doing.
Regularly review and discuss the test results with your child reinforcing strengths and developing strategies to support concept/skill attainment for underdeveloped areas.
Web Resources on Test-Taking:
Common Q/A on Test-Taking:
1. How can I most effectively help my child prepare for tests?
While each child is unique and may benefit from a slightly different approach to test preparation, recognition of the need to prepare is the first and most important step. Pay attention to the content your child is studying so you can ask questions about the unit or chapter. Work with your child to read and review assignments on a regular basis rather than putting things off until the last moment. Offer to ask your child questions, make flashcards, review notes, or create mock tests. Respect your child’s study methodology until you have repeated evidence that methodology is not working.
2. What are some strategies for specific types of tests?
Over your child’s educational career, he/she will be exposed to many different types of tests. The following suggestions for these various tests may prove helpful:
· Survey the entire test
· Plan out your time
· Read all directions and questions carefully
· Check your answers
· Go with your first hunch
· Statements with absolute words (all, always, only, never) are often false
· Statements with words that allow exceptions (sometimes, usually, seldom, rarely) are often true
· Check for accuracy of facts (names, dates, specific places)
· Count to see if there is the same number of items in each column.
· Work only one column at a time, usually the definition column, and work backwards to find the words or symbols that match.
· Be sure to find out if answers can be used more than once.
· Eliminate (cross out) answers that have been used.
· Read the entire question and try to determine the correct answer before you look at the choices
· Read all of the choices
· Eliminate answers you know are wrong first
· Watch for answers such as “all of the above” or “all except”.
· Use content, line-length and grammar clues
· Determine if a list of words to choose from exists
· Look for clues from other sections of the test (definitions, vocabulary)
· Always provide some answer
· Identify the question and key vocabulary
· Plan the answer to the essay before you begin to write
· Proofread your response
· With multiple questions, plan your time wisely
· Answer in outline form if you do not have time to write the complete essay.
3. What should I do if my child suffers from test anxiety?
Adequate preparation for a test is often a great cure for test anxiety. Help your child be ready for a test by talking about it ahead of time and discussing its likely content and format. Keep in mind that some degree of test anxiety is quite natural and can actually help your child be attentive to details and focus on important directions. It is only when test anxiety manifests itself in physical illness or other extreme behaviors that it must be considered a factor affecting a student’s performance. In those instances, it is important to seek the assistance of the school counselor or other school official to determine appropriate corrective action.
4. What if the testing time limits negatively affect my child’s performance?
It is clear that some students react adversely to time limits. This may be due to reading or writing limitations or elements of test anxiety. However, time limits are a reality of most testing situations. The best remedy for dealing with time constraints is adequate preparation. Students who know the content can move more quickly through the questions as they have additional familiarity with the vocabulary and key concepts involved. For students with special reading/writing disabilities affecting their performance, test accommodations can be requested. It is important to work with your child’s teacher or school counselor to determine the impact of the time limitations and the need for such accommodations.
5. What should I do about the test results?
It is important to understand the results of the test. If you are unfamiliar with the format of the test or the types of scoring information provided, ask the appropriate school official for an explanation. Look for performance patterns from one test to another to help you understand your child’s learning profile. Discuss the test results with your child at an appropriate level of understanding. Be sure to identify obvious strengths as well as any areas of concern. Determine if there is a need for any type of follow-up or corrective action.