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Test Prep: Upper Elementary Students & Standardized Tests

Let's talk about test prep….to be honest, I am not a fan of the phrase “test prep.”  I think it stresses everyone out! Teachers start to ask themselves…am I doing too much, am I not doing enough?  In my honest opinion, if you're teaching the curriculum throughout the year, you're prepping them, am I right?  But, there's still that time of year where testing season approaches and you may start to feel the pressure with the “prep.”

When I think of test prep, I think about boring workbooks and old tests…but it really doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be that way. Things have evolved with test prep just as they have with all other aspects of the classroom.  Working test prep right into your daily instruction helps prepare your students while teaching important test-taking skills for the future too.

Here's a few things that will help prepare your students for test-taking, not only during this season but for tests in the future too.

1. Work as a group: 

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!

Write a bunch of questions on a piece of chart paper and give each group a set of markers.  Each group can use a different color marker to restate or reword the question, answer the question, provide evidence from the text, and wrap it up. 

They can work together and take turns; each time they switch who is writing, they can switch their marker color. They can work as a team to build the best possible answer and make sure to include each part of the answer by taking turns and changing colors. 

When they are finished, have each group share their written answer while others provide constructive feedback. The key word=constructive. Students can learn from each other and how different each group’s answer is. They will learn from the way others restate the question and use evidence too.

2. Create a super answer: 

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 the evidence they’re using could be stronger, but they learned what they could include, and how to make it stronger by looking at the new and improved SUPER answer!

3. Create the question: 

While reading informational text, it is important to look carefully at the details that are presented when answering questions about the text.  We can better understand the questions that are being asked and answer them with explicit examples when we study the question and answer relationship.  There are some questions that are easy to find right in the text and others that we need to think carefully and use our own knowledge as well as the information presented in the text.  When we better understand the type of questions being asked, we can also better understand the answer we are providing.

When students have an understanding of the types of questions on the test, they have a better chance of choosing the right answer. As part of your test prep, 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!

To practice these types of questions, have students read a passage and then have THEM create questions based on what they read. They can then 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.

To help students analyze types of questions so that they can find the best possible answer, they can look at questions in isolation, not related to a passage or book they’ve read.  By looking at only the question, they can determine if they would be able to answer with information in their head or in the text. They are NOT trying to answer the questions but instead analyzing the type of question. Students can sort the questions into groups according to what type of question it is. 

The outcome of this activity is that students will not only use this skill on standardized tests but any time they are reading and responding to informational text.  This is a valuable study skill for students to use and apply to any test.

Some things that I think help students prepare throughout the year are working in book clubs, practicing close reading, and having a set time be student's choice for independent reading.

Test prep doesn't need to stress anyone out! It can easily be part of your day without becoming something “extra.”

This post about formative assessments might also be helpful.

You might also like to read more about teaching nonfiction text features.

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Let me know how you're prepping…and hopefully not stressing!

Happy Teaching!

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