6 Practical Ideas for Successful Test Prep This Season

Is your test prep game in need of a rebound? Sure, March Madness is starting this week, but for us teachers, it's testing season. With standardized state assessments and AP exams right around the corner, I worked on my game plan for test prep, and I'm sharing it today.

Check out this post for six practical (and fun) ideas for test prep that your students are sure to love but will also get them ready for exam day!

1. Card Challenge Quizzes

I was first introduced to this strategy by a former co-worker, and since then, I've used it every year with so much success. She came up with the idea of using a quiz bank to combat students sharing questions with later periods in the day. If you teach the same class more than once a day, this type of sharing is sure to happen. However, using a bank method with a random draw for questions minimizes the likelihood that they'll share answers. If nothing else, it works because they don't know which questions they'll receive on quiz day. To make the stakes a bit higher and since we're using cards anyway, the quiz is also a game of chance. If students pull a straight (it doesn't have to be in order) with Ace being high or low, they don't have to take the quiz and everyone gets a perfect score!

Here's how it works:
1. Make a quiz bank of at least 13 questions. (You could add up to 52 questions in one set; one question for each card.)
2. Add the questions to PowerPoint presentation giving each question a card in the suit. 
3. Separate one suit of cards Ace to King (13 in all).
4. Select five different students to pick one card from the suit.
5. Use those cards for your questions. Ask the questions that correspond to those cards.

This quiz "game" can work with any short quiz. I use it for reading check quizzes to check comprehension after independent reading. It also works great for test prep. I make a bank of literary terms examples and use this method for literary terms speed quizzes in preparation for the AP Literature and Composition exam.

My students enjoy playing this "game," and I am happy to know that the integrity of the quiz is maintained (or at least improved). It's so exciting when a class finally pulls that straight! It usually only happens about once in a school year for one class. If you're worried about them pulling it too often, don't! The probability of them pulling the straight from 13 cards a in single suit is 1 in 128.7 attempts or .7% of pulling the straight.

2. Prompt-Essay Writing Prep

When it comes to acing high-stakes, on-demand writing, the first and, in my opinion, most important factor is understanding exactly what the prompt asks you to do. Because standardized writing is graded holistically, it is impossible for students to score above average if they do not directly answer the prompt. If a student writes an essay with advanced diction, pristine organization, and an insightful analysis but doesn't directly answer the prompt, their effort was all for naught. Even though students do not have time to complete developed prewriting on timed tests, the skills that are required for this analysis can be practiced and perfected. Conducting a prompt analysis is a great way to practice these skills. Here's how we do it:

1. I give them 30 seconds to read the prompt.
2. Then, I ask them to turn the prompt over and immediately write down what the prompt was asking them to do.
3. We review their responses. It's not surprising with such a short reading that students miss something from the prompt. During this discussion, I make the point that hurried reading of the prompt when I time them or they're under pressure result in the same problem: lack of understanding.

We use a prompt essay writing process notebook to practice these skills in conjunction with organization. I've found that practicing these skills in a low-stakes environment gives them confidence and "brain-memory" to be able to do it on demand.


3. Scorer Training 

I had an epiphany after I attended an AP training. I was learning how to score these essays, so I can help my students, but wouldn't it also help them to learn what the AP readers are looking for? I decided it was important for them to learn about the grading process, so we do intensive grading training, just like the scorers of standardized tests. They learn that holistic scoring means their writing will be scored as a whole rather than individual sections. I show them the difference between a holistic rubric used for standardized tests and an analytical essay that breaks down each category for scoring with a set number of points. You can read about my "scorer training" through peer review below or on my Instagram.
This is how I set up peer review for AP, but it could work for any class. I number across desks with sticky notes (you know I love them! 😂) for how many students I have in class. I use washi tape to cover the names because it comes off easily afterwards, and it's not see-through (but most of all bc it's pretty!). Then, I give each paper two sticky notes. I distribute the papers and the holistic rubric, and the students read and provide comments on the sticky notes. Once they're done, they put their numbered sticky notes back on the original table under the same number. We repeat for the second reviewer. This works really well because the second reviewer isn't influenced by the first reviewer, but we can stick them all back together at the end for the owner. Finally, the owner reviews his/her own after now having read two other papers and becoming familiar with the rubric. Not only does this process give them valuable feedback, but it really helps them understand what the scorers need to see for a high scoring essay. 🎉
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Follow me on Instagram for more teaching tips and tricks.

4. QR Code Word Walls

QR Code Word Walls are a great way to improve retention of important testing terms, literary devices, or advanced vocabulary. Because students are engaged in the process of teaching, they are more likely to recall the terms later on. You can check out the details here.


5. Text Dependent Analysis Resources

Text-dependent analysis, analysis that requires students to synthesize information based on textual evidence, an important skill not only for test prep but for real-world interactions. What I love about text-dependent analysis is that it works great in print and even better in digital format. 



This is an example of a digital text-dependent analysis for the "Tomorrow" Soliloquy from Macbeth. Students must use their active reading skills to engage with the text. 

I recently found CommonLit from B's Book Love. What's great about this source is that it provides hundreds of {free} nonfiction and fiction texts paired with guided reading, textual analysis, and discussion assessments. It can be printed or used digitally.

6. Test Prep Fun

Test prep doesn't have to be a battle. In fact, I like to sneak it in so that my students don't even realize it's test prep. Well, they might realize it, but at least, it's fun. 

My husband uses Kahoot to review with his students. Students need a SmartPhone, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop to participate in this fun real-time review game. Because Kahoot has a sharing component that allows teachers to share and search Kahoots for any subject and level, you might even be able to find ready-made review games for your students. (My husband found a ready-made Kahoot for every single unit in this AP Government textbook!)

Another fun idea is to throw it back to their elementary days. 

Remember 7 Up? We do! Today we did a throwback to elementary school to prep for our Romantic Poetry unit test, and it was so much fun! You must try this! It's easy, fun, and effective! Here's what we did: I picked 7 students. They picked a classmate 7-Up style. Here's where the prep comes in: the students who were picked have to answer a question. If it's answered correctly, they replace the person who picked them. If they get it wrong, someone who wasn't picked can steal. In English 12, we used this game to practice vocab before our test. I give a sentence with the word; they explain the word's meaning. For AP, I give a literary term, they have to give a definition or an example. These are seniors by the way...playing 7 Up! I'm so thankful they humor my 😜 ideas! #igteacherpd #igteacherpdtestprep
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This really was as much fun as it looks!

Good luck during test prep season!

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