Standardized tests have been a fact of life for many years, and the results of these tests carry weight for everyone involved. There is a lot at stake, so it’s not surprising that standardized tests create anxiety for both students and teachers.

In an ideal world, standardized tests wouldn't be full of test-specific jargon, wouldn't have time limits that barely allow students to process what they're reading and think about their answers, and wouldn't be considered so important in measuring student progress and teacher effectiveness. State assessments do have value, but until a better individualized accountability tool is developed, we need to find ways to tackle standardized reading assessments.

Familiarity Breeds Success

One way to help your students prepare for reading assessments is to make sure the tests you give them in the course of teaching your curriculum are structured like the standardized tests they'll encounter.

The advantage of this method is that you don't have to spend time "teaching to the test"; by the time students take their standardized reading assessment, they'll already be familiar with its format and question styles. Familiarity gives them an advantage—humans tend to dislike or fear the unknown, so removing that factor will go a long way in reducing test anxiety.

This means writing your own practice tests or finding teaching materials that suit your needs. You'll likely need access to previous versions of the standardized test or tests, for a couple of reasons:

  • to make sure the language on your tests matches the language used on theirs; standardized tests have their own jargon. It’s important to familiarize students with this language so they aren't surprised on test day.
  • to make sure the format of your tests matches theirs; you'll need to identify passages rich with challenging content and write challenging questions based on that content. Writing good questions that match a test's format can be difficult. You may find that the passage you've selected doesn't support more than one or two good questions. Or maybe the passage doesn't support enough plausible but incorrect answers to these questions.

Going the Test-Prep Route

A second method is to teach your students test-taking techniques directly. With all the pressure on you concerning your students' standardized test scores, you may feel you need to give your students tips on test taking. However, this method comes with a substantial opportunity cost: While you're teaching your students test-taking techniques, you're not teaching them about literature, grammar, writing, and other important areas of English language arts instruction.

Although strategies for taking standardized tests will give your students confidence on test day, strong reading comprehension skills is something that will benefit them in the classroom and throughout their lives. Practice Makes Perfect: Preparation for State Reading Assessments can help your students achieve both of these goals.

What do you do to prepare students for reading assessments? Let us know in the comments!