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Taking a math test? Practice your multiplication tables. Social studies? Memorize those state capitals. But there's another subject to know when preparing for any test: The art of test-taking itself.
Testing remains a controversial subject for many school districts, but few students can escape it entirely. And no one wants to go into that exam room unprepared.
TODAY Parents asked teachers, administrators and counselors throughout the country to share what they wish all parents knew about testing. Here's the best of what they told us.
Tips for elementary-school students: Slow down!
1. Speed doesn't equal success
“It's important to remind your child to slow down. Often we find that children equate knowledge with how fast they complete the test. Remember to encourage your child to slow down, check every answer and show their work. And of course, always tell them to do their best, and we will be very proud.” —Wendy Housari, 4th-grade teacher, Legacy Traditional Schools - Chandler, Arizona campus
2. Speak positively
Your language is incredibly important. “Avoid saying this test is so important and that he or she better do well. Focus on telling your child that he or she is prepared and to do his or her best. Tell your child to stay focused and answer the questions the best he or she can.” —Beverly Collins, senior vice-president, support services, Huntington Learning Centers
3. If you opt your child out of testing, do so thoroughly
“If you don’t officially opt your student out of a test, they still have to take it. So, if you pull your kids out (of school in order) to skip the test, they just get pulled out of actual classes to make them up.” —Bill Laurienti, a Colorado teacher within grades 8-12
4. Provide relaxation strategies
“Remind (students) of ways to calm down, such as taking 10 deep breaths, counting slowly to 10, or reciting a positive phrase, such as the Dr. Seuss quote, ‘You're off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.’ —Stephanie Martinez, ELA subject matter expert, Legacy Traditional Schools - Chandler, Arizona campus
5. Your child is more than their score
“High-stakes exams provide educators with an assessment of a student's current skill level in a specific area. They are not the end-all, be-all of education, nor should your child let their grade on these exams identify them. They are a snapshot of academic performance, no more, no less.” —Chris Zilinski, Principal, Lavelle Preparatory Charter School - Staten Island, New York
Tips for older students: Attitude matters
1. It’s not like when parents were in school
“Parents don't always fully comprehend how kids are impacted during tests. Kids often think the last time their parents had tests was so long ago that it could have been the same year the Egyptians created the first pyramid.” —Allison Matulli, executive director, Legal Kid, Inc.
2. Organization and a healthy breakfast are the best way to start the day
“Students should organize anything they might need for the test (pencils, calculator, etc.) in their backpack, and put the backpack by the door. Make sure there’s no last-minute scramble to get out of the house. The morning of the test, give students a breakfast that will stick with them — something with protein, like eggs or oatmeal. Studies show that students who feel rested and fed will perform better on the test. —Emily Levitt, vice-president of education, Sylvan Learning
3. It’s OK to not talk about it
“Sometimes the best way to help an anxious test-taker is to give them an opportunity not to think about their test. Parents can take them out for ice cream, out for a walk, or simply talk about something different. 99 times out of 100 neither the parent nor the child wants their relationship to be focused on chasing schoolwork or testing pressure. “ —Andy Williamson, Hampton Tutors - Seattle, Washington
4. Your attitude is contagious
“Kids of all ages will feed off of your attitude toward the assessment. The more anxious you are about the assessment, the more anxious they will be. Use language that promotes the importance of the test, but also let them know that you are proud of them when they do their best. For students who have anxiety about the test, a relaxed environment will be most welcomed. For the few who are more laid-back, some gentle encouragement through creating a safe environment to work together will help them see you care about their success." —Michael Coon, senior instructional specialist in mathematics, Pasco County Schools -Land O’ Lakes, Florida
5. Embrace the testing environment to prepare for the future
“High-stakes exams are a reality of education, from the elementary grades all the way through post-graduate degrees. Familiarity with this type of testing environment will prepare a student for the multitude of similar exams they take later in their academic careers. If we set up the expectations that students should simply focus on doing their best, then we should be able to reduce much of the stress related to the tests. Remember, it is only a test.” —Chris Zilinki, principal, John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School