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3 Test-Taking Strategies for Elementary Students (Includes 10+ Printables)
By: Erin Lynch
Recently I've had a lot of teachers come to me asking about standardized test preparation. While I hope the majority of my instruction prepares my kids for our standardized tests there are 3 basic test taking strategies for elementary students I review... and 10 printable resources that help!
Strategy 1: Review the Different Question Formats
To be successful on exams students must be familiar with the different question formats and feel comfortable moving between a scantron and their test packet.
A week or so before a high-stakes tests, I use very specific test preparation strategies and handouts to review the different questions students will see on the exam.
It’s always a good idea to review and practice multiple choice (selected-response) strategies before an assessment. On multiple-choice tests, the vocabulary and layout of the answers can confuse students.
These are my six tips to help students feel like they Multiple-Choice Champions before a big test:
Reread the question. Make sure you understand what is being asked.
Come up with an answer to the question before looking at the list of choices.
Read ALL of the answers and cross out the choices that don’t make sense.
Underline the section in the text or question that supports your reasoning.
Look carefully at similar-sounding answers. Find the more precise answer.
Select “All of the above” if two or three answers seem correct.
Download the Be A Multiple-Choice Champion Tip Sheet and hang it up in your classroom the day of an exam. I guarantee your students will look at the poster sometime during the testing period to boost their confidence and recall strategies for answering multiple-choice questions.
Open-Ended Response Strategies
Most schools have an acronym they use school-wide to help their students with open-ended responses. If your school has not adopted an acronym that is used throughout the school, I highly recommend you do. It promotes consistency as the students move from grade level to grade level. The acronym we use at my school is ACE:
Answer the question:
Turn the question into your answer and answer it
Cite an example:
Give a specific example from the text to support your answer
Extend your thinking
Give another example OR state another thought about the text that supports your answer
Help students remember how to answer open-ended responses with the ACE Open-Ended Responses Tip Sheet.
Basic Strategies for Answering Test Questions
Finally, I review simple strategies that students can use to attack any question.
For older students, I have a list of suggestions for answering the various types of questions from multiple-choice to essay prompts.
For younger grades, I use a fabulous handout from the amazing Vocab Gal. This handout delves into some of the strategies I discuss when reviewing multiple choice questions and gives students concrete examples to look over.
This resource will show students the following strategies to puzzle out questions they may find confusing. It highlights the following strategies:
Substitute each answer in the blank
Justify answers my underlining information from the passage
Cross out answer that don't make sense
Strategy 2: Strengthen Student Vocabulary
Unfamiliar vocabulary in a literary text or a standardized test can confuse and/or discourage students.
I always make sure my students are armed with the vocabulary strategies they need to come out victorious rather than feeling defeated after taking a test. Below are word strategy resources to ensure students come out on top!
10 ELA Test Terms to Know
Here are 10 terms students should know heading into a standardized test (words may vary depending on your state test). Download the 10 ELA Test Terms To Know Reference Sheet and review the words with students until you're confident they understand their meaning.
10 High-Stakes Test Terms to Know
A similar download you may find useful is Vocab Gal's 10 High-Stakes Test Terms to Know Poster. Vocab Gal suggests that teachers incorporate these terms into classroom activities and should clarify how best to answer each question stem while the stakes are low.
For example, a teacher could ask an introductory question such as
“Infer from the reading on page 3 how Jimmy felt about his friends.”
“Compare the reading we did for homework with the passage on the board.”
“Analyze how Martha came to make the decision she did.”
Break the Word Down
The last strategy/handout teaches students how to break down individual words and puzzle out their meanings. Here's an example using the word submersible:
STEP 1: BREAK THE WORD INTO SMALLER PARTS. LOOK FOR THE PARTS OF THE WORD YOU KNOW.
Submersible → sub mersible
What does the word sub make you think of?
You can investigate even further by asking, “Do subways and submarines have anything in common?”
- Both are used for transportation and traveling from one point to another
- Both are underground
STEP 2: LOOK FOR THE CONTEXT CLUES. WHAT DO THEY TELL YOU?
"Explorer, the submersible watercraft, sank deeper into the ocean.”
From the passage clues we know that:
- Submersible is describing a feature of the watercraft.
- The watercraft can travel deep into the ocean.
STEP 3: USE YOUR BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE.
I know a sub or submarine travels underwater.
The passage says, "...sank deeper into the ocean."
You can conclude that submersible means a vessel or vehicle that is capable of traveling and operating underwater.
This example is a great resource to share with students as a handout or you can hang up the poster on the classroom wall. Once students have reviewed this strategy, assign them words to break down themselves using these three steps.
Strategy 3: Use Practice Prompts
Reading Practice Prompts
As a literacy specialists there are a few “key literary elements” that I make sure to emphasize in my teaching because I know they will help my students perform well.
Fortunately, these “key literary elements” support strong reading comprehension and should be focused on even if there were no standardized tests to be taken.
Available for download are reading practice prompts for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry texts. Download Sample Reading Prompts for Standardized Test Preparation for grades 3–5 now.
Standardized tests can be stressful for students and teachers. Hopefully my test taking strategies for elementary students and accompanying resources will relieve some of the anxiety.
I would love to hear your test taking strategies for elementary students. Leave a comment below!
Vocab Gal's Favorite
Strategies for Answering
Test-Taking Strategies Poster