What's your favorite time of the school year? I'm guessing that it probably isn't testing time, nor the test prep weeks leading up to it! In spite of the fact that we never want to teach to the test or prepare students just for a test, the fact remains that students have to take the standardized tests, and we want them to do the best they can. So, how can we best use our test prep to help them?
1) Spiral Review
The most effective test prep method I've found is using spiral review throughout the year. The warm-ups I use review previous concepts, reinforce current concepts, and introduce new ones. This way, we are always solidifying concepts ("prepping for the test"), and as we get closer to test time, the warm-ups give us a chance to discuss concepts that might show up in the testing, but that we won't cover until after the testing occurs. Using these warm-ups may put me a little 'behind' in the curriculum on a daily basis, because they take time; but it helps solidify understanding and puts my students a little ahead with other concepts at the same time. I'm good with that:-)
If you don't use spiral review, however, what are some ways to help students prep?
2) Turn Review Into a Game
Sometimes we've used a Jeopardy-type game, with the standard categories being the categories and the level of difficulty increasing with the number of points. We've also used a Deal or No Deal type game, where teams of students answer a question (I use task cards from our different units as the questions). If they get the answer correct, they get to choose a case, and the cases hold different point values.
These games can span several days with a mix of concepts, or can focus on different standards on different days.
3) Use Centers
Your test prep can include centers, to be implemented over the course of a week or two.
4) Try a Structured Review
Try a structured review as part of your test prep. Display multiple choice questions for the whole group to solve and then select their answers. Together, analyze the answers and discuss why incorrect answers were chosen. Discuss how some answers could be eliminated.
I love to use mini-whiteboards for this type of review - students just seem to have more fun figuring out problems on their own personal whiteboards! I also like to have students discuss their answers/compare their work with a partner or two and try come to a consensus, before discussing as a whole group.
5) Discuss Test-Taking Strategies
Test prep needs to include a discussion of, and practice of, test-taking strategies. Sometimes, it's not that students don't understand how to complete a math problem. Sometimes, they miss information in the problem or misunderstand what the question is asking. It's important to take some time to practice test-taking strategies. Of course, this is something to focus on throughout the year, but it doesn't hurt to have a refresher before test-taking begins. The strategies I focus on the most are:
In closing, I think it's critical that we use some type of review throughout the year, to help students keep using what they've learned. This way they don't feel like they're cramming for the test as it gets close. However, if some of that cramming ends up being needed, we can review in a fun, relatively stress-free way.
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