3 Tips for No Stress Test Prep

It's that time of year again, we turn the clocks ahead, the days become longer, spring is in the air...and testing season is upon us!  Dun, dun, dun.  The dreaded words that seems to sneak up on us...test prep.  When I first started teaching, I would stress out because I hadn't opened the test prep workbooks that my school had ordered.  While other teachers were working their way right through them, mine were still sitting inside the cabinet.  Oh, that big, yellow, thick workbook filled with page after page of black and white passages with question after question filling the pages; multiple choice, short answer, extended response...the Groundhog Day of teaching manuals!  Do you know why I hadn't taken them out of the cabinet?  Because I disliked those books as much as the kids did! 

Giving practice tests from a workbook was not why I became a teacher!  I was here for the "a-ha" moments, the fun stuff, the hands on!  Did I really need to use this workbook?  Soon I realized that no, I did not need a workbook.  I realized that test prep should not be approached as simply preparation for the test but with the thinking that my students should be learning skills that enhance their learning and understanding far beyond the test.  I could provide my students with the necessary tools and skills they would need to be successful on standardized tests without the "drill and kill" practice tests.  I could integrate test prep into our curriculum while still (gasp!!) having fun and learning new skills they would benefit from beyond the test.
I have 3 test prep methods that you can use in your classroom to help students prepare for the test as well as develop their study skills for the future. 

I like to have students use classroom magazines or passages that relate to a topic we are covering in Social Studies or Science.  This keeps the reading relevant to what we are learning and helps keep students interested.
There are a lot of things that get students excited.  Group work is one of them.  Getting up and moving around the room is another!  And do you know what students love more than working in a group while moving around the room?  Writing on chart paper!  Put up a piece of chart paper, pass out some fancy markers that smell like licorice, and watch those eyes light up! 

I write a question on a piece of chart paper and have enough for each of my groups.  I then give each group a set of markers and they use a different color marker for restating the question, answering the question, providing evidence from the text and wrapping it up.  They work together and take turns; each time they switch the marker color, a new group member does the writing.  They work together to build the best answer and make sure to include each part of the answer by taking turns and changing colors.  When they are finished, I have each group share their written answer while others provide constructive feedback.  The key word=constructive.  (You can find a free poster to encourage constructive feedback below!)  Students can learn from each other and how different each group's answer is.  They willlearn from the way others restate and use evidence too.
Another way to have students work in groups is to give each group a question and have each student answer the question on their own.  After each student has completed their answer, have them work together to really pull apart each of their answers to combine them for one SUPER answer!  In doing this, they are learning what their strengths are and they also start to realize what they may need to work on.  Maybe they notice their evidence could be stronger, but they learned what they could add in and how to make it stronger by looking at the new and improved SUPER answer! 
When students have an understanding of the types of questions on the test, they have a better chance of choosing the right answer.  You can teach your students the difference between literal questions, the "right there" questions they can find right in the text; and inferential questions, the "in your head" questions that require some thinking.  Once students understand the relationship between the question and the answer they are looking for, it will make determining the answer much easier! 

One way I like to practice the types of comprehension questions is to have students read a passage and then have THEM create questions based on what they read.  They must decide if those questions are literal or inferential.  You can have students work in groups with different passages and then have groups switch to try to answer the questions.  Students love having the chance to "be the teacher" and they will learn to analyze the questions in order to find the best possible answer.

Lastly, talk about the test!  I love to read picture books with my students and when you have been testing or prepping for the test, students will love the time when they can wind down and listen to a good book!  A few of my favorite books to read aloud are: Testing Mrs. Malarkey, Beautiful Oops, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, The Most Magnificent Thing, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, Wilma Jean the Worry Machine and The Big Test
Open up the dialogue in your classroom so that students feel comfortable asking questions about the test and discussing test anxiety.  Help students form a growth mindset when thinking about the test and discussing it.  Using positive and encouraging words at home and at school will have a big impact on your students!  And as testing approaches, you can do a variety of things to keep student's spirits high.  I love this idea from Katie from TeachRunCreate on Instagram.  She sent each student a hand written note in the mail so they would receive it before the test!  Ashley, the Texas Lone Star Teacher, has a free "Words of Encouragement" resource for parents, past teachers and classmates to send encouraging words.  More Time 2 Teach also has a wonderful free resource for parents to send in some notes of encouragement for their child.  You can leave a note on the students desk, have a fun breakfast before testing begins, or plan a fun activity for when testing is over too! 

You can grab these free motivating sticky notes for student's desks HERE!
What else do you like to do to prepare for testing season?  I hope you found a few new strategies to use in your classroom! 

Happy Teaching!

If you would like a free Question Analysis activity, you can subscribe to my newsletter HERE.  You will receive an test prep activity where students can analyze the question and also gain exclusive access to my VIP Nest full of exclusive freebies!
You can check out these freebies in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.  Send home a brochure to parents with some testing tips and also hang a different version of "Do not disturb" on your door while you are testing! 
bit.ly/TestingSign     bit.ly/TestTakingTipsforHome
You might also be interested in these products to help students with important test prep skills in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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