Tag Archives: Test Prep

Testing…made {much} better, Part I

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This is part 1 in a two-part series by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.

Ahhh, spring: swaying daffodils, refreshingly warm days, welcomed longer afternoons…and tests, tests, tests. Although standardized tests are extremely important, they shouldn’t strike dread into the hearts of your students. Instead of hitting the all-panic button come testtime, help your students (and parents!) feel confident and prepared with these helpful hints.

One Bite at a Time

We all know how to eat an elephant, and it’s not all at once. Similarly, don’t spend the week before testing cramming with your class; rather, review both daily and weekly. Incorporate concepts into several simple “Morning Work” problems for your students to solve when they enter the class each day. You can write questions or equations on the board or have a simple practice sheet waiting on student desks. Steady, consistent review is better for both long-term memory…and everyone’s nerves.

Tips for Parents: Ask your child’s teacher for a list of concepts to review or information about the test format. For example, will your student be required to fill in answers or will the questions be mostly multiple choice? Even going over this simple fact with children helps them feel calm when the test is finally placed in front of them.

Study Helps

Use graphic organizers, charts and diagrams to help students visualize the answers to study questions. When possible, use alliteration or rhymes to help students remember key points.

Consider using the SQ3R technique— Survey, Question, Record, Retain, and Recall — to enhance comprehension memorization. Click here for detailed direction on how SQ3R works; it’s a great way to transfer information to long-term memory!

Tips for Parents: Check out the veritable slew of research-based test-prep workbooks and activities at your local school supply store. These from The School Box are some favorites:

  1. Georgia CRCT Prep Books (they sell books by state!) $15.95
  2. Carson-Delosa testing prep books, by grade level. These workbooks contain strategies and practice activities that will greatly increase student confidence and familiarity with the test format and content. Love them! $12.99
  3. Core Skills Test Preparation workbooks from Harcourt School Supply, by grade level: another great set of skill-specific practice pages to help build mastery and strengthen reading comprehension. $9.99
Just a few practice sheets a week can make a world of difference both in reviewing skills and in helping kids feel on top of their game come test morning.
Two more helpful guidelines will be shared in the next article in this two-part series!


Kanar, C. (2011). The confident student. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.


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Study Tips for Students (Print This!)

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Those seeking some help in their study skills will find it in these invaluable tips.

Unplug. The Internet, video games and television are huge distractions. Unplug them if only for a few hours so you can actually get something done.

Find something to motivate you. Sometimes even something as basic as being hungry can help motivate you to get work done. Tell yourself you can’t do whatever it is you want to do until you’ve finished enough work.

Bargain. Sometimes it can help to bargain with yourself. Allow yourself one hour of fun for every two hours of work you do.

Set hours. Help yourself get into a studying routine by setting aside hours of your day to focus solely on your studies.

Have a set study place. Find a place in your home where it’s quiet and you can set your mind to working without interruptions.

Reduce outside distractions. From the phone ringing to family members peeping in, try to reduce the amount of things that can distract you and get you off track.

Get the hard stuff done first. If you have a particular assignment you’re dreading, tackle that first. The rest of your work will feel like a breeze after that weight has been lifted.

Take a stretching break. Get up and walk around every once in a while. It will help you feel refreshed and let you refocus.

Never study all night. Studying all night will let you go over more material but it won’t help you remember it. Studies have shown that studying and then sleeping on it is a far more effective method.

Start early. When you’ve got a major test coming up don’t wait until the night before to start studying. Give yourself a few days to tackle the information. You’ll be less stressed and remember it better.

These tips were adapted from www.onlinecollege.org.

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Graphic Organizers II: Story Map

Microsoft Word - Story Map.docShare your thoughts! One lucky commenter from this post will receive a $20 School Box gift card!

Graphic organizers allow students to display and organize their thinking concretely–whether they’re reading a novel or their history book. This three-part series will share a new (downloadable!) graphic organizer with each post.

In the previous post, we met The Stick Man. In this post, we’ll be talking about the handy dandy Story Map.

This tool allows students to summarize and visually depict main ideas of a novel or text. Each box on the chart represents a different chapter or event.  In the small box in the right-hand corner, the students can number the boxes sequentially. In the large box, students draw a picture summarizing the main idea of the chapter (or historical events or science concept, etc). And in the rectangle at the bottom, students write a sentence summarizing the main idea.

For younger grades, this can be very simple: A simple drawing of the characters with a simple sentence describing the drawing.

For older grades, this exercise can involve more detail and synthesis: The drawings can be very detailed, and their summary sentences may need to include more than one main idea to encompass the important events of an entire chapter.

When to use it:

  • As a study guide before a history test, to sequence major events.
  • As an organizational tool before writing essays (a different point or paragraph can be organized in each box).
  • As an assessment tool to see how well students understand the main ideas of each chapter in a novel study. The pictures also show you what a student is visualizing as they read. Additional sheets can be added for additional chapters.
  • At the beginning of the year: Have students complete one about themselves, using major events from their own lives!

How to use it:

  • Download the graphic organizer here. Once students get used to using the organizer, they can draw their own versions on paper.
  • Model how to complete the diagram thoughtfully. Complete the first one together as a class, so students can see that you want thoughtful responses and detailed visualizations.
  • If students need more practice with the diagram, have them complete one on themselves, next.
  • Then, have students complete the diagram independently on whatever book or concept you’re studying.
  • Colored, detailed story maps make great classroom displays for open house, too!

To download the story map, click here.

Coming next in this series: Story Strip Sequencer

Got a good graphic organizer idea? Share your thoughts! One lucky commenter from this post will receive a $20 School Box gift card!

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Preparing for Standardized Tests…All Year Long

Teacher helping students writeWritten by Kathleen Bukowski

CRCT, ITBS, SAT, ACT….acronyms that all parents and students dread. No matter your stance on the benefits or drawbacks of standardized testing, these evaluative tools have become the heart of our education system. The good news, however, is that parents and teachers can provide students with strategies and hints to help ameliorate the anxiety that accompanies standardized testing.

As a teacher and parent, I have found that being familiar with test language and protocol tends to reassure even the most reticent test taker.

Tip One: Critically Read the Directions
Teach children to be critical readers of more than just the test question; teach children to spend time reading directions. As teachers, practice this daily with homework and class work activities. Highlighters can be a student’s best friend for understanding the language of tests: teach students to highlight or underline the key words in directions and questions.

Tip Two: Learn the Structure and Language
Teachers and parents can preview tests online or in practice books to help familiarize themselves with question and direction text structure. Once you know the words and phrases that are commonly used, you can teach these skills discretely and in the context of your everyday lessons.

Tip Three: Practice Time Constraints
All too often students are unfamiliar with the pressure of completing tasks within a structured time frame. In the classroom, begin practicing this process early. This can be done once or twice a week with timed fact tests or writing assignments. Be sure to then discuss with students how to budget their time as this is not an innate skill for many; students will need your guidance and modeling. Parents, you can tackle this at home with homework and your kitchen timer. Take time to know your child and how effectively he or she works.

Tip Four: Practice the “Bubble” Format
Finally, teach students how to track their answers in a test by having them complete “bubble” answer activities long before test day. Teaching young children to keep track of the answer sheet and question simultaneously is imperative, as this can be one of the most difficult tasks for young test takers. Give them strategies for how to scan the test prior to working and how to go back and check to make sure that they have answered all the questions.

As a professional, I do believe that there seems to be a propensity toward spending too much time on test preparation, but it can be done seamlessly throughout the year so that children do not feel overwhelmed at the prospect of taking these often-tedious tests. With early practice, students can become test savvy and comfortable with the process.

About the Author: Kathleen Bukowski is the Learning Lab Coordinator for St. Francis High School in Alpharetta, Georgia.  She has worked closely with students in the area of study skills for 17 years both in Connecticut and in the Atlanta area.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in learning disabilities education and an master’s degree in remedial reading and language arts.  She has also presented information regarding study skills, technology and writing at the National Conference for the Learning Disabilities Association of America.

We want to thank Kathleen for her wonderful contribution to A Learning Experience! She was awarded a $35 School Box gift card for being selected for publication on this online newsletter. To find out how to submit your own classroom ideas or insights for review, please click here.

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