Final Push to Finals: Test Taking Strategies

PencilYou spent the whole semester teaching content. From commas to compositions, your students have the skills, but do they have the skills to successfully navigate your final exam?

I’ve found it difficult to balance the need to teach students content with the need to teach students how to demonstrate they know the content. Assessment is a reality of life; from state tests to college entrance exams, students will face tests throughout their lives. All this to say, teaching students explicitly how to successful navigate a test is critical to their success.

Top 5 Test-Taking Skills to Teach Before Finals

  1. slide1Preview the Test: Spend a couple minute previewing the test before starting to get a sense of the question types, length, and difficulty
  2. Annotate Passages: Write a gist of the main idea next for each paragraph or the entire passage depending on the length and task associated with the passage
  3. Circle Key Terms in the Question: Teach students to circle key words that help students identify what they are/aren’t looking for; this helps avoid selecting distractors that are unrelated to the question
  4. Eliminate Distractors Before Selecting an Answer: Teach students to eliminate answers before selecting the correct one. It’s also important to teach students the different types of distractors.
  5. Budget Time: Do you have students who perpetually run out of time on tests? Teaching them to budget time is a skill that has to be built. Help students build the habit of skipping and coming back to tough questions.

Learning test-taking skills require lessons of their own. Students need strategies, resources to reference, and practice. Remember, this is not a natural skill. It takes time, explicit instruction, and lots of practice. The Test Taking Strategies Anchor Chart in my TPT store is a great place to start in teaching your students test-taking skills.

TN Ready Question Types for ELA Test


TN Ready is the Tennessee State Assessment that is replacing TCAP beginning with the 2015-2016 school year.

It was originally framed as a mixture of Common Core and State Performance Indicators (SPIs), but it appears based on what has been released to focus almost exclusively on Common Core.

Information about the design of the test has slowly been released throughout spring 2015, but has not been widely distributed to teachers. The Tennessee Department of Education’s website includes PDFs outlining the test design and percentage each type of question accounts for on the test, and a basic overview of what the test is and why it matters.

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On the Road: 11 Surefire Strategies to Motivate Students for State Tests & A Critique of the Testing Machine

At the school where I used to teach, preparation for our state’s high-stakes test, the TCAP, was an all hands on deck five-week bootcamp like adventure. Our entire school ascribed to “What’s Your Why?” as the central question we used to motivate students. Every teacher had an individualized buy-in plan that included rewards, public/private data trackers for students, and frequent communication with parents. Every student was asked on a daily basis what’s your why, and the answer to this question was related back to TCAP success. Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.23.40 PM

Last year, my students were voraciously reading Divergent, which became a central theme in my motivational strategy. I gave each student a tracker where they measured their weekly progress on mixed-skill quizzes. I called parents every Friday afternoon when a student worked hard all week and performed on a mixed-skill quiz. I integrated the importance of writing in every field and every part of life throughout my lessons. I used data from our Mock TCAP to unit plan, and I used mastery from the Mixed Skill Quizzes to plan reteaches the following week. I wrote lessons that had question stems aligned to the state test and distractors designed based on what the sample questions included.

cogs-in-a-machineI used the same strategy this year. TCAP Prep time is the toughest part of the year for students and teachers. It is a 6-week, non-stop race. Getting students invested in their performance on the test is crucial, as are aligned questions, and annotation and elimination strategies dominate an ELA state test that relies on better/best answer choices. This year, my test preparation machine began to feel seamless; I had the necessary component parts to make all the cogs and wheels turn.

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