Test prep is a necessary evil. While I do not in ANY way suggest we should teach to the test I am adamant that we need to prepare our students to do their best. With the current school climate so much is tied to test scores and as teachers, we are judged by our scores. This doesn’t seem to be something that will change anytime soon, so we work with what we’ve got.
There are endless ways to test prep, and I would like to say there is no wrong way to do it, but I just can’t. There are some practices that truly torment our students and bore them out of their minds.
On the other hand, there are test prep strategies that allow our students to grow and enjoy the review, this is what we should all be striving for. That’s not what I’m here for today. This post is about the worst ways to test prep.
Endless Kill and Drill Test Prep
It is tempting to think that more is more. When I think back to my time as a student, and honestly my first years as a teacher, this is what test prep looked like.
It was endless worksheets and practice tests. We worked in isolation with a teacher traveling around the room to check-in, or maybe not. We often didn’t get or give any feedback.
This kind of repetitive work with no feedback and no collaboration is tedious and boring. It also doesn’t allow a student much room to grow. If they didn’t understand the concept at the beginning of the assignment or practice test, this type of test prep doesn’t leave much, if any, room or assistance to grow. Instead, it leads to frustration and may cause students to shut down or be off task.
Instead, mix up how you work. There is a time and place for practice tests, but they are not all day every day. You can use these same practice problems in a variety of ways that will get students up and moving as well as working with one another. This will allow more freedom and a chance for peer and teacher feedback which will lead to growth.
Working in Isolation
Yes, students have to take their standardized tests by themself. I am not denying that. What I am saying is that if you spend your year working in a collaborative environment and then during test prep season ask students to work entirely alone it is a shock to their system.
We spend so much of our time building up the classroom community and asking students to give one another feedback and then pull out the rug from under them when we go to test prep. This is confusing.
Instead, have students work collaboratively with partners or small groups for the majority of the time and then provide mini-assessments for students to show what they can do on their own. This can be achieved through exit tickets or things of the like.
I love a good review game! The problem is when you gamify everything you do it loses its value.
Students come to expect the game-like elements of it and lose interest in the strategy. This can be an absolute let down. Don’t get me wrong. If you find a gamifying strategy that works in your classroom use it, but don’t abuse it!
Instead, use gamification strategies carefully. Find a handful of strategies you love and use them throughout the content, but not for everything.
Never Take Breaks During Test Prep
As an adult, I cannot study or really do anything for hours at a time. Our students definitely can’t either. When we drill and kill or give practice tests that are the length of the whole test we crush our students.
Instead, when planning for test prep also plan for brain breaks. These opportunities allow students to get up and move around the room sending more oxygen to their brains. These short and simple breaks give students the ability to focus for longer.
A brain break doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as a few rounds of rock paper scissors or stretching. Anything that causes students to cross the midline of their body is a great idea!
Do the Same Test Prep You Have Always Done
One of the most dangerous phrases we can use as teachers is, “This is how we’ve always done it.”
The students you have in your class change each year and so does the content you have to teach. Something that worked well or even amazingly last year may not work at all this year. That is the nature of teaching.
Instead of doing what you have always done, carefully look at your students’ needs and plan from there.
Introducing Test Prep Academy
Test Prep Academy is a mini-course full of information on how to plan, prepare for, and execute your best test prep season yet! With five modules full of information that will take you from plan to action this mini-course will be your test prep lifesaver!
- Module 1: The Standards
- Module 2: Planning for Test Prep
- Module 3: The Superpower of Small Groups
- Module 4: Harnessing Cooperative Learning
- Module 5: Gamifying for Review
Each topic is covered with a series of videos and comes with a workbook to keep your notes neat and make implementation easy. You will also receive supporting documents to take the ideas shared from theory to practice in your classroom.