Surviving Test Prep

Testing season approaches, which means test prep gets kicked into high gear. I’ve taught in schools that have special boot camps every Saturday leading up to exams, and schools that use the block of time meant for art electives as test prep class. In other schools, the effort was less overt but still omnipresent. It’s not subtle when a Barron’s test prep book appears on the back counter of every classroom one Monday morning. Many of you are also directly or indirectly required to do test prep in your classrooms. Here are a few ways I made test prep bearable for my students and myself:

Start By Building a Foundation

Breaking Down Questions
Spend time teaching question words like compare, contrast, defend and conclude. With these and other reasoning words, your students will have an arsenal to break down complex questions. A lack of language skills is one of the largest standardized testing obstacles. By breaking down questions you can help your students build comprehension and confidence.

Working with Grammar
A little grammar never hurt anyone, and test prep is a great opportunity to dive in! Choose chapters with basic grammar lessons and focus on those with the intent that the grammar chapters be useful beyond the confines of the exam. Pairing these lessons with reference texts like Eats, Shoots and Leaves (available for adults and as a kid-friendly picture book) and No Red Ink, grammar class can be actually fun!

Writing Outlines
The ubiquitous essay question is not going anywhere soon, so test prep is a great time to teach and master the one-minute outline. Teaching students to read, dissect a question, and then scribble down a quick outline before writing is an invaluable skill. Practicing writing outlines will help your students get their thoughts together during an exam, or for your next big writing assignment.

Comfort is Key

In addition to addressing skills on the exam, prepare students by treating the exams like an everyday event. Some schools hold pre-test pep rallies and teachers run around handing out prizes to get kids pumped up for the exams. This celebration can increase test anxiety. Many of our smartest students do not perform well under stress, so hyping the test can lead to poorer results.

Beneath the hype and stress of test prep, many of us — especially the students — can equate their worth with a potential test score. However, it’s important to separate the test score from the child. Students want to do well and will put effort into the exams. No one shows up intending to fail and, as teachers, we can relieve that pressure by providing unconditional support to our students.


It’s important to not only make test prep bearable for you and your students but also to remember that this is an opportunity to check-in on your students cognitive and emotional well-being.

If you have any helpful advice for getting through test prep please tweet us @PearDeck with #testsurvival.

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