Contributed by Meghan Sullivan
Questioning is a form of teaching as ancient as Socrates. When it comes to the implications and complexities of the topics people encounter, learning is fostered by the critical thinking that questions promote. The Socratic method was, and still is, instrumental in developing a framework for understanding important concepts.
A more formal presentation of this questioning mechanism has solidified itself in American education system. With spelling pre-tests on Monday, question-based homework due Wednesday, and post-tests on Friday, students’ academic lives are centered on material that is later covered on tests. The underlying belief is that assessing student performance plays an important role in examining what needs to be changed in the classroom, and tests are the primary vehicle through which this assessment is done.
History has clearly favored an increased amount of testing, and the result has been an academic calendar rife with exams. State-mandated K-12 testing and college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT on top of the usual class-specific unit exams have led to a year-round testing phenomenon.
While the merits and effectiveness of the their prevalence in K-12 space are topics very worthy of discussion and debate, standardized exams are heavily utilized in the current educational climate, and we at EFP hope that students and teachers can use them to their benefit.
Listed below are our ideas for making the most out of standardized exams.
For the Student
- Utilize fun and accessible test prep materials: Organizations like Khan Academy have numerous videos and learning tools geared to specific courses and exams. Their SAT materials, for example, are free, personalized, and sponsored by the College Board, the maker of the exam. With resources like this at your fingertips, studying for exams becomes more engaging and manageable.
- Develop a strategy that works for you: A benefit of standardized tests is that you can play to your strengths. Each correct answer earns points, so search for the ones that are easiest for you and circle back to the tricky ones if time allows. As this Kumon article illustrates, finding a way to effectively use your time will help you do your best.
- Find ways to positively channel the stress: Test anxiety surrounding standardized exams is a growing concern among parents and teachers, and has negatively affected students’ well-being. It’s important to remember that getting a good night’s sleep, eating breakfast, and keeping connected with loved ones is as important during exams as it is during all other times of the year. Taking care of yourself – such as by exercising, staying hydrated, or taking a three-minute study break to listen to your favorite song – will allow you to recharge and approach the exam with a clear head.
For the Educator
- Integrate test prep into the classroom in a fun and engaging way: A common viewpoint is that standardized exams force teachers to “teach to the test.” While preparing your students for exams that carry a lot of national weight is certainly important, Scholastic has put together a great list of easy ways to make this prep more seamless. Interactive and traditional games like Bingo, Jeopardy, and Jenga are also great ways to get your students excited about test prep.
- Keep an eye out for students that may benefit from specialized programs: For some students on the “bubble,” intervention or after-school tutoring programs can be instrumental in helping them solidify the concepts in their mind and get the score they need. The individualized attention and assistance that comes from such programs may lead to academic growth that extends beyond a single assessment. Solutions include services from companies like Sylvan and school-based models like peer-led tutoring.
- Treat results leading up to the big exam as a learning tool: Exams are taken on one particular day or week of a much longer academic year and are not completely representative of your students’ learning. However, as a collaboration between the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools illustrated, data-based learning initiatives can lead to improved student performance. Tracking your students’ progress leading up to the big exam can help your tailor your lessons to your students and allow both you and your students to achieve the best outcome possible come test day.
Standardized test prep doesn’t necessarily have the reputation for being fun or effective, but with these strategies, we hope you have the answers to some important questions and wish you the best of luck this testing season.