Test Prep in the Classroom
Without changing the curricula, instructors can teach testing competence from kindergarten through 12th grade, for all standardized tests. Here's how:
- Discuss testing with your students. Life is stuffed with various kinds of tests, and we need to accept the inevitable. (Job applications, driving exams, tests for various licenses, etc.)
- Model your test questions (at least some of them) on those that appear on standardized tests, especially college entrance exams. Comfort with question format is critical.
- If you're a high school English or math instructor, and your students want to go to college, take an SAT and an ACT yourself. Know those tests well.
- Involve the entire faculty in your project to raise school scores on standardized tests. The idea that only English teachers should correct grammar and punctuation is RIDICULOUS.
- From 7th grade onward, put one SAT (or ACT) question in math and one from English on the board every day--in the appropriate classrooms, of course. (This is an entertaining way to prove the importance of a wide vocabulary. It's fun to "play" with a math teaser question.) This exercise takes about 5 minutes, and every one of those questions tests something you need to teach anyway.
I've spoken with teachers who give "mini SAT workouts" daily. They testify that the results are dramatically higher scores with far less test anxiety.
- Play "sports and games" in class. Use questions from old tests and create teams. Play JEOPARDY and baseball games with the questions. This can be a 30-minute Friday afternoon treat when kids' attention lags anyway. If you think about it, much of what we teach can be turned into some kind of game or contest.
- At the end of your regular classroom quizzes and tests, pose one actual SAT question. Award extra credit for any student who answers it correctly.
- The loss of Latin in schools nearly polished me off. Between 60 and 70% of English words come from Latin and Greek roots! Learning Latin used to be the way students mastered English grammar and grew husky, wonderful vocabularies! Still…you can teach those roots with posters on classroom walls. Students write words derived from each root (along with their initials) on the posters. This becomes a game, and everyone wins. [Without realizing it, we all "know" many of these roots already, we just need to think about it. See my title, SUCCESS WITH WORDS.]
- Likewise, you can teach vocabulary with etymology. Everyone enjoys learning how we got our words. Hackneyed derives from the boring, repetitive rounds of the English hackney coaches. Homogeneous literally means "same kind," a word directly connected to its roots. Romeo comes from the lovestruck boy in Shakespeare's play…and so on.
ESL (English as a second language) students really benefit from vocabulary help. But heck, everybody does!
- Most standardized tests require logic and reasoning skills, something you can teach in the classroom. Surely thinking is our most critical life skill! One New Jersey teacher I interviewed said she uses "deductive thinking exercises" regularly. "From the given, what can you deduce? For instance, why are polar bears ears so small? It's tough at first, but we can teach kids problem-solving skills."
- Repeat, repeat. We don't learn or "own" words unless we use them. Write the week's vocabulary list (Students can do this.) on big cards and run through the list every day (3 to 4 minutes). Students say the words and their meanings aloud. Every word, every day. A new word must be used at least 6 to 8 times to be planted in the brain.
At least one-third of us learn best through our ears.
- Teach outlining. Outlines organize and rank our thoughts. Failure to construct logical outlines results in written work that lacks coherence and structure. If readers cannot find the "bones" of a piece, they often miss critical material. Anything written well has discernible bones--its outline--and readers subconsciously depend on that.
Outlining and reading comprehension and logical thinking are firmly linked.
Test-Tips For Multiple Choice Tests
- Sleep as much as you can the night before any test. Eat a good breakfast. If you can take a thermos to the test, take iced tea. If you can take food, take a peanut butter sandwich.
- You know what kinds of questions you do the best. Do those first!
- Before reading answer choices, get your own answer in mind, if possible.
- Always eliminate answers one by one. Always!
- If you can eliminate one or two answer choices, make an educated guess.
- Don’t guess if the question is totally foreign to you.
- Wear a watch to the test. Pace yourself.
- Don’t waste time on a killer question. You need to collect all the right answers you can before time runs out.
- Simplify tough words by breaking them down into prefix + root + suffix whenever possible. What words that you know share that root?
- If reading materials are difficult, underline key words and simplify long, complex sentences in your mind so that you understand exactly what the passage means.
- For all but the shortest essay questions, make an outline! It is time well spent. Logical organization is the key to a good essay.
- If a math question is offered in different units, such as inches and feet, convert and work the problem all in one unit. It’s normally easier to work in the smaller unit.
- Some problems, both math and verbal, contain too much information. Weed out that which is extra.
- Refuse to panic! Slow down and work any challenging problem step by step.