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Becoming a Test Prep Expert

Stratgies to Help Prepare Students for High Stakes Tests

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With the growth of high stakes testing in states across the nation, test preparation has become a major responsibility of teachers. Many of these tests directly bear on ratings and funding for the school. Therefore, these schools expect their teachers to spend precious class time preparing students for the tests. In order to really be able to help students get ready, teachers have to become intimately familiar with the format and the content of the test in question.

Issues and Concerns for Teachers

Many teachers complain that the standardized tests that their students are required to take do not accurately reflect what they are supposed to be learning in school. In fact, this is one of the main arguments against the current state of high stakes testing in most states across the nation. Despite these concerns, teacher are compelled to stop teaching their curriculum and instead 'teach to the test'. Some schools even go so far as to call a halt to all 'normal' instruction in certain grades during the week or two leading up to the test. None of this is surprising, however, when the punishment for poor test grades is tied directly to funding. This also means added pressure on teachers to ensure that students are prepared and do succeed on these high stakes tests.

How to Become a Test Prep Expert

High stakes testing is not going away anytime soon. Every state has its own version of standardized tests for their students. The difference is how much emphasis is placed on the results from these tests. Therefore, we as teachers need to come to terms with the situation so that we can help our students be as successful as possible. Therefore, the first step in the process is becoming familiar with the test in question. Following are a number of steps to follow as you get to know the test and prepare lessons to help your students succeed.
  1. Start by obtaining a copy of the test instruction booklet and sample questions. Actually spend the time to read through the entire booklet and attempt all the questions. This will give you an initial feel for the types of questions students will see.
  2. Track down a list of the topics and objectives targeted by the test. These are typically available online, though there are also books published by different state Departments of Education to help you. Become clear about what will and will not be covered on the test. If there are topics that fit in with your own curriculum, make sure to point this out as you are teaching during the year.
  3. See if the state agency responsible for the test has released past exams for teachers to use. If so, look through these trying to spot tricky questions and other test specific information. If you have permission, you can also pull questions out to help your students as they prepare.
  4. Review published test preparation books if available. More and more publishers are releasing study guides for state tests. Read through these for tips and ideas to pass on to your students.
  5. Learn about general test prep tips to help your students such as:
    • Look for and underline key words such as not, except, and always.
    • Mark through all answers that you are sure are not correct.
    • Place a mark in the test booklet next to each question that you want to go back and review.
    • If there are no penalties for guessing, make sure to answer every question.
In the end, the more that you know about the test, the better prepared your students will be.
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