Testing season can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike. Don’t worry – we have some ideas for test prep that don’t require giving them the questions!

There are ways prepare students for standardized tests without actually teaching the test. According to W. James Popham, “If a teacher directs instruction toward the body of knowledge or skills that a test represents, we applaud that teacher’s efforts. This kind of instruction teaches to the knowledge or skills represented by a test. But if a teacher uses the actual test items in classroom activities or uses items similar to the test items, the teacher is engaging in a very different kind of teaching.”

Here are some tips to emphasize real learning in your classroom – while preparing students for those pesky tests.

1. Break Down the Test Content into Sections

By doing this in your classroom, students can reflect upon areas they understood well and what they might need to review. Students efficiently use their test prep time by not studying unnecessary topics and focusing on the areas that they need to improve.

Students with this type of an “outline” approach can prepare their own study guides rather than aimlessly re-reading long and extensive chapters in a text book.

2. Split Students into Small Groups According to Topic

Test PrepNow that you have your test broken down, you can use classroom data to split students into small groups. Provide each small group with games, study guides, and additional instructional time focused on the specific skill with which they are struggling. Encourage the members of each group to ask each other questions, work together to find solutions, and quiz each other.

Many students may prefer to study individually, but organizing students in small groups provides teachers with the time and opportunity to reteach difficult concepts, which is impossible to do on an individual basis. For many students, being placed in a small group with peers who are struggling with the same content can be reassuring because it enables them to see that they’re not alone in their struggle. Encouraging them to interact with and challenge other members of the group demonstrates that you believe in them and feel that they still have ideas to contribute even though they haven’t yet mastered the content.

3. Remind Students of Basic Problem Solving Skills

It might seem like a simple part of test prep, but when students become stressed basic problem solving skills kind of go out the window. As students, we’re constantly told the basic problem-solving steps – re-reading the question, figuring out what it’s actually asking, making a plan to find a solution, and verifying that your answer makes sense.

Drill this process into your students over and over again during test prep. Remind them that these steps are helpful with every problem – especially those they’ve never encountered before. Following these steps can help students avoid making silly mistakes. and eliminating answers you know just aren’t correct.

By doing this, it might take a little more time, but students won’t make senseless mistakes that lead to a failing grade.

4. Lead by Example

Remember that students will feed off of – and likely adopt – your attitude about standardized testing. If you are stressed about it, they will be too. If you treat it like a waste of time, they won’t put any effort into performing well. Make sure you are projecting a relaxed, positive attitude – regardless of how you may actually feel about testing. Reassure students that neither their worth nor intelligence can be measured by a single test, and that their effort is more important than their final score during testing season. Treat the test as an opportunity for students to show off everything they’ve learned this year and they’ll go into it with a more positive, optimistic attitude. Never underestimate the power of high expectations!

Running a classroom, addressing standards, and working in test prep all at the same time can be stressful. Remember to take some time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished, what went well, and what you’d like to improve upon each day. Don’t focus on teaching to the test. Instead, focus on helping your students be the most confident problem solvers they can be. This one test will not determine the rest of their lives – or your success or failure as a teacher. Take a deep breath and teach.

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