Preparing for Testing

Perhaps the most important thing to do during testing season is to keep perspective!  We are tempted to think that a test will accurately assess how we are doing as teachers and how our children are doing as students.  But it can do neither.  It is only a tool to determine how our children compare academically with other students in the same grade level at the same time of the school year.

The resultant scores are percentiles rather than raw scores.  An achievement test is a different tool compared with a content test.  But even the academic subsections of an achievement test can vary from our specific curriculum’s scope and sequence.  For instance, Christian homeschoolers often study history and geography intensively.  But the IOWA and SAT tests have only a subsection on “social studies”. While social studies may include history and geography concepts, it often centers more in social concepts such as community services, minority group progress, government and political issues, business versus conservation, and recycling.  Although these concepts can be important in a Christian worldview, we must realize that we may emphasize concepts differently from mainstream educators.  We should then adjust our expectations according to our values and consider the testing results accordingly.

On the other hand, the test can be quite valuable for assessing relative strengths, weaknesses and learning gaps.  It can also be a much-needed wake-up call for some who do not have their family life in control and find schoolwork pushed into the background regularly.  We do have a mandate from God to educate our children and we must be faithful.  Testing is also an opportunity to hone our children’s skills in group situations, and in test-taking strategies, both of which are necessary for any future traditional educational setting – such as college.

After gaining proper perspective and trusting in the Lord to teach us, we are then ready for practical ways to prepare.  Simply learning a little strategy and becoming familiar with the format can often improve test scores.

Understanding the Directions

Children must be sure they understand the directions before they begin the test.  They feel free to ask for repetition at home, but in an unfamiliar group setting they may not be as comfortable.  The administrator can restate the directions and clarify as long as no answers are alluded to in the process.  Emphasize to your child that if he doesn’t understand the directions to let the administrator know.

Consider the Test Level

Levels 5-8 (kindergarten through 2nd grade) are different from higher levels.  The administrator (teacher) for these early levels will talk the students through the material as a group.  For the most part, the entire class of students will move along at the same pace as directed by the administrator.  Therefore, these littles will not be able to skip questions, move ahead, review, etc.  It is at the 3rd grade, level 9 that the recommendations below become more pertinent.

Choose the Best Answer

*Good guesses
*No penalty for wrong answers
*First hunches are usually best

There will be some questions that your child will thoroughly understand and will be able to know the exact answer. There will be other questions that there will be some hesitancy or confusion by your child.  Just as in life, your chilTeach your child to make good guesses, but not wild ones.  Teach him to eliminate obviously wrong answers and make reasonable guesses from others.  There is no penalty for wrong answers on achievement tests, so encourage him to answer all questions as best as he can.  Unless he has confidence that his choice was not a good one, discourage him from switching answers.  First hunches are usually best.

Make Good Use of Time

*Easy questions first
*Mark skipped questions
*Don’t dally over bubbles
*Practice time constraints
*Dull lead for bubbles, sharp for math

If a question or problem is particularly difficult, it should be skipped and returned to later after easier questions are answered.  There is a hazard, however:  students must insure that they do not get off sequence on the answer sheet.  Help them work out a system for staying on number sequence and flagging the skipped questions.

Marking the answer bubbles can also waste time.  All that is necessary is for the scoring machine to know which answer has been chosen, and that can be done without perfectionistic marking.  Test administrators should look over the answer bubbles after testing sessions and make sure they are filled in appropriately for scoring.  Dull pencils are actually better for marking bubbles quickly; math problems are worked more quickly with sharp pencils.

We are not typically bound by time constraints at home, so working within specific time limits might prove helpful.  Math is the best subject for practice.  Math subtests generally allow 20-40 minutes, depending on the level of the test.  Within this time frame, have your child see how many problems can be worked with attention to accuracy.  Children who are meticulous or slow workers will need some training to work within time constraints.  Younger children will also need help transcribing horizontally given math problems into vertical form to work.  And they must learn to sit quietly and not distract others.

(Do remember that grade 3 is the first level with a separate answer sheet.  In the early grades, most of the test is read aloud by the administrator and time limits are not as stringent.)

Become Familiar with the Test Format

Setting up worksheets in a test format will give your child some practice and help him feel more secure at the onset of the testing session.  For example, prepare groups of math problems with possible answers set up with a “not given” or “not here” choice.  Language mechanics involves a sentence with variations in its punctuation.

Test levels through the third grade contain a listening subtest.  Prepare for this by reading short paragraphs and asking questions about them regarding inferences, drawing conclusions, and retention of meanings and details.  Often these readings cannot be repeated; teach your child to listen and attend the first time.

You can often order practice tests from various sources which may help many students, especially if they have not tested previously.  You want to instill confidence and familiarity.

Don’t Expect to Know it All

Remind your child (and yourself) that he is not expected to know everything on the test.  Some of the test items will be beyond the grade level to accurately cap the higher scores.  Students can answer several questions incorrectly or not at all and still do well on their scores because they are comparison scores.  Your child’s score will be determined in comparison with other students who also got some answers wrong.

Remember that your work is unto the Lord.

What happens in October, January and May is a better indication of your faithfulness than what happens during testing week.  And your child’s heart condition is vastly more important than his academic performance.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Proverbs 1:7 italics added

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7

Let’s present all of our lives, including testing and assessment, as living sacrifices to Him!