Incorporate Teaching & Test-Taking Strategies Now to Minimize Anxiety at Test Time
In a society where standardized tests are reality in many states, teachers are faced with an ever-present dilemma: “Should I, or should I not, teach to the test?”
Both sides of the debate have merit. In a world where teacher salaries, school funding, and student promotion are sometimes determined by test scores, it is seemingly impossible not to teach to the test. However, many feel that teaching to the test limits meaningful learning in the classroom, especially for students with special needs, in special ed, and students with learning differences.
The following activities are recommended for educators to combine meaningful learning with test-taking strategies, thereby facilitating overall academic achievement and standardized test success:
1. Provide repeated exposure to standardized test format. Broaden the curriculum by applying standardized test format and test-taking procedures in other areas of the curriculum. Repeated exposure to standardized test format takes away some of the anxiety experienced when students are faced with “real” standardized tests.
2. Teach necessary components in bite-sized pieces. In an effort to avoid students feeling overwhelmed by too much at one time, break necessary skills down into individual components. For example, when teaching writing, break lessons down into individual components such as topic sentence, supporting sentences, and closing sentence. Allow plenty of time for struggling readers and learners to succeed in one area before moving on to the next.
3. Tailor modifications to meet the needs of each child with learning differences. Not every modification works for every child. Providing more time for one student may not be as beneficial as having a test administrator read the test aloud. Large print accommodations do not benefit all students, and in some cases, may cause them to see the test as longer and more intimidating.
4. Teach test-taking strategies.
• Emphasize first and foremost: read directions thoroughly.
• When reading long selections, teach students to read the questions first so that they know what information they are looking for.
• Have them underline key words and phrases and make notes in the margins.
• For multiple-choice items, teach students to cross out wrong answers with a pencil before choosing the correct answer from the choices remaining.
• Teach the importance of reading all of the choices before answering.
• To help students avoid feelings of frustration and inadequacy by spending too much time focusing on one difficult passage, question, or test area:
o Help them understand that it is okay to skip an item and come back to it after the remainder of the questions have been answered.
o Have them circle the question number so they know which one to return to quickly.
5. Encourage critical thinking skills across the curriculum. Provide opportunities each day for students to “think outside the box” in an effort to improve critical thinking skills. Encourage creativity, instead of letting the pressure of standardized tests stifle it.
6. Make every effort to reduce the pressure for students. Employ test-taking strategies as a routine in the classroom, not just at standardized test time. Help them understand these tests scores don’t make or break their grades. Emphasize that all students should do their best, and leave it at that.
Authored by Rachel Kaspar
“I feel the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure. You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it.”
–Reggie Jackson, Major League Baseball Player