Friday, September 12, 2014

Test Prep: Giving Your Kids The Best Chance To Succeed

There are certain things that I do before ever test to prepare my students for success. No, I don't mean discussing test-taking strategies or telling the kids about the importance of a good night's rest. Sure it might be helpful to know to underline key words in a test question, to pick "C" when you don't have a clue, or to eat a good breakfast, but does that really do the most to prepare kids for a test? There's got to be a better way. There's got to be more that we can be doing to give students a better chance to succeed.

Here's what I do. (It seems to work pretty well.)

1. Notify parents of the upcoming test.
Perhaps the greatest advice I was ever given was by the teacher who went on maternity leave and left a vacancy for me to get my start. She told me that she emails parents every week before a test. I thought it was a good idea then, and now I'm convinced it's a great one!  The benefits are tremendous.

In these emails, I tell parents what content will be tested. I provide them a study guide with all the SOLs so that they KNOW what the content is (because really, what parent knows who Jo Anderson and Robert Smalls were?). This information equips parents with enough to ask their child about the content or to quiz them at home. They are informed about the flashcards and study guides I send home too.  Parents become partners in encouraging their children to study. I have never received anything but positive feedback about these emails.

2. Provide a study guide. 
On the same day that I send parents an email, I provide my students with a blank study guide.  Now, the minute we say "homework," kids get that look on their face that says, "not again" or "thanks, but no thanks." Many refuse to complete homework. But, try saying, "extra credit" instead. It works wonders. Most kids jump at the opportunity. And, so, I give the students one week to complete a study guide (8-10 pages) that counts as 10% extra credit on the test. With their parents "in the know," the students are encouraged at home and at school to complete the assignment.

When I first introduce the extra credit study guides, I do some math on the board to show the students the benefit of completing them. When I do, students begin to understand why working on it is a good decision in preparing for the test. And, for those that don't take advantage of it the first time, they usually do the second after I show them the average scores of students who complete the study guide and the students who don't do any of it. I also offer partial extra credit for students who complete a portion of the work.

3. Keep kids engaged with fun, challenging, and confidence-building review games!
Because students are given the study guide and flashcards a week in advance, and since their parents know the test is coming, and because you've already delivered such high quality instruction over the course of the previous few weeks, it's not too much to ask to use a day for exciting review games that both challenge students and prepare them for the test. By the time they come to me the day before the test, most kids already are feeling really good about the material. So, the review day helps to build confidence. Feel free to scan through some of my previous posts to find some of the games I play--from easy prep activities like the Dice Game to more intensive prep games like Minute to Win It.

4. Do the little things to calm the nerves of the really anxious students. 
Know which students get nervous easily. Build their confidence. Let them know you are proud of them in the days leading up to the test. Tell them exactly what the test looks like. Explain where they will be testing--even if it's in your room and let them know why you think they'll do best there. Offer to stay after school and work on the extra credit study guide with them. Do whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable. Even that might not be enough. But, they'll know you care...and that counts for something.