Test Taking Strategies You Need To Teach Your Students

by | Apr 7, 2020 | Educational Resources, Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

As a teacher, I always had a few students whose test scores shocked me. I knew they mastered the material, yet their test scores were average – or even below average. Why do some students seem to perform better than their class discussion and work shows? What are test-taking strategies that my students need to know?

I finally figured out that being smart doesn’t necessarily mean you understand how to take a test. Some students intuitively know how to narrow down answer choices and determine which answer is most likely correct, while others struggle to pick an answer.

Some teachers give a few test-taking tips, like pre-read the questions, and if you don’t know the answer, guess C. These are not fail-safe strategies, and they don’t really help students. Knowing the questions before reading can help students to know what is being asked, but with tests like FSA, most questions are inferred. Guessing C is better than not answering, but using critical thinking would be much more likely to produce a good “guess.”

How can students use critical thinking to do better on any test – not just standardized tests?

Using Critical Thinking on Tests

Critical thinking means thinking clearly and systematically to solve problems or make decisions. There are many critical thinking skills, but a few examples are analysis, inference, and problem-solving.

An example of critical thinking on a test would be when a multiple-choice question includes “all of the following except.” Usually, all of the possible answers are good choices, but one doesn’t fit the question. Students need to think carefully to figure out which “good” choice doesn’t fit the question scenario.

As the majority of test questions are multiple-choice, teachers should model ways they think through finding a correct answer on a MC question. In this post, I will discuss ten clues students can use to help them narrow down the possible answers on multiple-choice questions. (Although there are more than ten strategies, I narrowed them down to the types of questions elementary and middle school students are most likely to see on a test.)

1. Word Frequency

If the answer choices repeat words, those words are more likely to be correct. In the example below, red, blue, and yellow are all used more than once, so C is probably incorrect. Red is used the most often, so A or D is most likely the correct response.

Which colors can be mixed to form the color purple?

  1. Red and Yellow
  2. Yellow and Blue
  3. Red and Green
  4. Red and Blue 

2. Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Students should use what they know about word roots to help them figure out the answer. For example, the Greek root photos means light, which makes it easy to identify which answer is most likely correct.

What is photosynthesis?

  1. how plants decompose into nutrients
  2. how plants use sunlight to make food
  3. how plants reproduce using pollen
  4. how plants protect themselves 

3. Similar Choices

If a question has two answer choices that are nearly identical or very similar, one of them is probably correct. For example, both astrology and astronomy include the root astro, so one of those is most likely correct.

What is the study of celestial objects and phenomena?

  1. astrology
  2. physics
  3. zoology
  4. astronomy

4. Umbrella Choices

Sometimes one answer choice could include the other possible choices. For example, in the question below, B, C, and D would all fit into answer A. Therefore, A is most likely correct.

Astronomy is the study of

  1. space and everything in it
  2. planets and stars
  3. galaxies
  4. comets and asteroids

5. Opposite Choice

If there are two very different choices or opposite choices, one is probably correct. Talkative and unable to speak are opposites, so most likely, one of them is the correct response.

When Pablo’s mom caught him lying, he was suddenly tongue-tied.

  1. had a dry mouth
  2. talkative
  3. unable to speak
  4. breathless

6. Judgement Question

This type of question might ask students to select the “best” answer or something like, “with which statement would the author most likely agree.” In these types of questions, all the answers are usually good. Students need to use critical thinking to determine what the correct response is. Students need to be careful not to base their choice on their opinion but the question criteria.

         With which statement would the authors of both Passage 1 and 2 agree?

  1. Mount Everest is a challenge people can’t resist.
  2. Increased safety measures should be adopted on Everest.
  3. Attempting to summit Mount Everest can be deadly.
  4. People need to prepare for Everest’s extreme conditions.

7. Grammatically Correct

If a question uses a sentence stem, then the correct answer should be grammatically correct when the question and answer are put together. In the question below, A and D do not form a grammatically correct sentence when joined with the question. B or C would most likely be the correct response.

The purpose of a culinary program is:

  1. you learn how to study.
  2. to learn how to cook.
  3. to teach computer programming.
  4. learning to design web pages.

8. Absolute Words

If answer choices use absolute words like never, always, every, all, or none, it usually means the response is incorrect. 

Which statement is true?

  1. All bird species migrate.
  2. Every species in North America migrates.
  3. The majority of bird species migrate.
  4. Bird species never migrate in winter.

9. The Most Different

Sometimes a question has three similar answer choices and one that is very different from the others. The different answers are often correct. In the example below, three of the answers are positive feelings about the game, while one is not. 

What is the mood of the crowd at the beginning of Passage 2?

  1. The crowd feels hopeless about winning the game.
  2. The crowd is confident Casey will save the day.
  3. The crowd is supportive of the home team.
  4. The crowd is enjoying their time at the ballpark.

10. Key Word

If a key word is used both in the question and an answer, it may be the correct response. The key word season is used in both the question and response A. Therefore, A is most likely the correct answer.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

  1. SAD occurs when the seasons cause depression.
  2. SAD is a disease caused by fleabites in humans.
  3. SAD is a disorder that happens after childbirth.
  4. SAD occurs when students are overstressed.

Come back next week when I will discuss practical test-taking strategies for different types of test questions.

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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