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10 Essential Test Prep Strategies To Maximize Student Performance

Use these 10 test prep strategies to maximize your students' performance.

Preparing for an exam, whether a big final exam on a tough unit or a smaller test meant to check where students are at when learning a certain outcome, requires some test prep strategies. 

But before we talk about the test prep strategies, here are some tips for students to use during the preparation process: 

  • Encourage students to start studying well before the date of their test or exam – cramming at the last minute might work for some people, but it’s not something that should be relied on. 
  • Help students create a study schedule that breaks down the topics they need to review and assign chunks of information to certain days to ensure that everything gets looked over. 
  • Make sure that students have their notes and materials organized. Go over what they’ll need to review for their test or exam. Need some tips to get students organized? Read this blog post: How to Help Students Be More Organized.
  • Encourage students to take regular breaks during their study sessions so they don’t burn out and can maintain focus. Just taking a break to drink water and walk around the block can improve productivity and information retention. 
  • Sleep is important for everyone – students especially. Sometimes, tests and exams feel like they should be reviewed well into the night, but students should be reminded of the importance of getting enough sleep. This goes hand in hand with their test prep strategies – without a good night’s sleep, they might be unable to focus on any strategy. 
  • In addition to sleep, remind students that they need to stay healthy. Encourage them to eat well-balanced meals, stay hydrated, and stay physically active during the days leading up to the exam. 

It’s also important to let students know that they can ask for help if they’re struggling with a concept or topic. They could reach out to teachers, their classmates, or some of the online resources. 

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10 Essential Test Prep Strategies To Maximize Student Performance

Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog and Stacey from Exceptional ELA have teamed up to bring you 10 test prep strategies that can help you through standardized test season or to help your students generally prepare for any test they need to take.

Get Students Familiar With The Structure Of The Test (Stacey)

When students know what to expect on the state test, they feel more confident going into it. Let them know what the structure of the test looks like. 

Here are some questions you want to let your students know the answer to: 

  1. How long does the test take to complete? 
  2. How many questions are there? 
  3. Is it multiple-choice?
  4. Are there short answer questions? 
  5. Will they have to write an essay, and if so, what kind? 
  6. What tools or resources will they be allowed to use on the test? 

If your students are taking the SBAC (Smarter Balanced), you can check out this blog post for a link to the Quick Reference Sheet that lays it all out for your students. 

Create Study Guides (Kristy)

I love helping students create study guides that summarize key concepts, formulas, and vocabulary. I explicitly show students how to go through their class notes, handouts, and textbooks to find key information. Then, I model how to write it down in their study guides. They should not be writing full sentences and paragraphs. Students must learn how to condense the information and use short forms and acronyms. 

It is important to have samples for students to look at when creating their study guides. If this is your first time teaching the material, creating example study guides will be valuable to your students. As you get more experience teaching the subject, ask students if you can keep their study guides as examples. 

Hit The Big Topics (Stacey)

It’s impossible to go over every single topic of the state test, but you can research ahead of time by using old state exams to find out the “heavy hitters” of the test. This helps make studying more manageable and focused. I like to give my students easy fill-in-the-blank cards for this (kind of like mini anchor charts!) If your students are taking the SBAC (Smarter Balanced), you can check out this blog post for a link to the cards that I use.

Extra Review Sessions (Kristy)

If you notice students struggling with specific concepts you do not have time to cover during class time, offer extra review sessions during recess, nutrition break, lunch hour, study hall, etc. Try to team up with other teachers to run these extra review sessions so that it is not just your responsibility. 

As the introduction mentions, test prep strategies should always include having help available. Chances are if some of your students struggle with a concept, others are, too. The goal of these review sessions is to provide students with time to ask questions and review difficult concepts.

Play A Fun Review Game (Stacey)

Engaging middle school students in review activities can sometimes feel like a daunting task, especially when faced with the challenge of preparing them for the big state test. Fortunately, there’s a powerful tool in every teacher’s arsenal: multiple-choice review games. 

These games not only make reviewing content more enjoyable but also encourage critical thinking and active participation among students. Check out this blog post for seven exciting multiple-choice review game ideas like Connect Four or Trasketball, tailored specifically for middle school classrooms and designed to energize your review sessions and boost student comprehension.

You could also have students quiz each other. This Partner Quiz Teaching Strategy is a great test prep strategy.

Mock Tests (Kristy)

If possible, provide students with multiple opportunities to try out the test structures (e.g. long answer, multiple choice, etc.) they will need to use. Administer mock tests under the same conditions the real test environment will use. Some standardized tests take a long time. You may consider breaking it up into smaller timed sections when you practice with students. 

In addition to mock tests, why not have students create the test? Give them the task of creating 5 to 10 questions each, complete with an answer key. This will give them another opportunity to review the material as they come up with their questions and answers. Then other students can review by using these new questions. 

Try An Escape Room (Stacey)

If you’ve never tried an escape room in your classroom before, this is an awesome opportunity! What is an escape room, and what does it look like for your classroom? 

Essentially, an escape room in the classroom is a series of tasks. Normally, when students complete each task, they are given a key or a clue that can help them solve a mystery or a problem. 

You can set up your escape room so that your tasks are equal to a concept or topic being addressed in the state test. You can also make it competitive by having students work in groups or partners. Maybe you can also offer a fun prize to the winner! 

Check out this blog post: Why Use Digital Escape Rooms in Middle School?

Flashcards (Kristy)

Okay, when it comes to test prep strategies, this strategy may seem “old school,” but it works. Encouraging students to create flashcards to review important terms, definitions, and formulas is a highly effective test prep strategy that can enhance student retention and understanding. 

When students actively engage in the flashcard-making process, it helps reinforce content knowledge, and they can design the cards to meet their learning needs. Some students like charts and tables, whereas others may like mind maps. This activity requires students to synthesize information into short pieces of content which helps with the comprehension and organization of key concepts. 

The process of regularly using flashcards helps students retain information for the long term. It is much more effective than a last-minute cram session. Remind students that flashcards are also very portable and can be used to fill short periods rather than immediately looking at their phones. 

Here are some links to flashcards:

Get Them Emotionally Ready (Stacey)

Going over the content of the state test is all well and good, but getting them in the right mindset is important too. I have students do a few things before they take the state test to help with this. 

First, I have the students write a letter to a random student. In this letter, they are encouraging this student to do their best, and maybe they add a few fun jokes or illustrations. On the day of the state test, give students the letters to read just before they start – it can make starting the test more exciting!

Another thing I do is create a huge encouraging banner that all my students sign with positive messages. I keep this banner up the entire time the test is going on. 

One last thing I do to get my students ready for the test is create a testing survival kit for each of them. For this, I get parent help! I create a little goodie bag for each student that contains things like a new pencil, mints, Jolly Ranchers – anything that will help them smile! I have some ideas for this outlined in this blog post.

Online Resources (Kristy)

Remember, it is not just your responsibility to prepare students for testing. Students can also prepare themselves for a standardized test or any test by using teacher-recommended online resources such as websites, videos, and interactive tutorials for additional practice. Websites often offer a variety of learning experiences for students, such as videos, quizzes, and additional materials that students can use to reinforce the concepts taught in class. If you are looking for educational content check out Khan Academy’s YouTube channel.

Check out this blog post where I explain 8 different ways to make exam review fun

Additional Test Prep Strategies

About The Authors

Stacey has been a middle school ELA teacher and mentor teacher for over 15 years in Southern California. She has also taught ESL in America and Japan! Stacey started her Teacher Pay Teachers store in 2018 and has created over 250 quality products with over 3300 five-star reviews. She also writes a blog on her website, Exceptional ELA, to help give secondary ELA teachers some fresh and creative teaching ideas.  In her free time, Stacey loves spending time with her family, traveling, hiking, and camping. 

Kristy has taught ELA and other subjects to middle school students for over 17 years in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada. She is guilty of always having a book in her hand – even at the dinner table! She shares teaching content on her website, 2 Peas and a Dog, and sells middle school education resources on Teachers Pay Teachers or Shopify.

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