How to Improve Standardized Test Scores

Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

In this lesson we will look at ways a teacher can help to improve standardized test scores. Main concepts include knowing curriculum, practicing material, teaching test-taking strategies, and using technology to help students prepare.

Improving Standardized Test Scores

Standardized test scores are extremely important in today's educational climate. They can play a role in government funding to a school, teacher evaluation, and the academic placements of students. While true intelligence and natural ability may limit how well some students perform on standardized tests, there are certainly things a teacher can do to help students reach their full potential on the exams.

Understanding the Test

Before you can improve your students' test scores, you first need knowledge of the test. As the teacher, your understanding of the tested curriculum is a critical factor in influencing how well your students score. Most standardized tests have sample exams, test blueprints, and curriculum frameworks that break down the material covered on the test. These documents can be used as a guide.

Sample exams offer an authentic example of what a student will encounter on test day. Test blueprints typically tell you what percentage of the test questions are about each major area of the curriculum. For example, 30% of questions on an eighth grade standardized math test may focus on functions, but only 15% of the questions focus on statistics. This can help guide you in planning how much time to spend teaching each area of your curriculum based on the prevalence of various topics. Curriculum frameworks show the conceptual structures upon which the test was based. Careful review of the information and documents published by state departments of education is critical for writing curriculum and lesson plans that will fully prepare students for the test.

Practice Similar Material

The formatting of standardized tests can be a stumbling block for some students as well. Once you are familiar with the test, you can help your students prepare for their future exams. Practicing the same types of questions will help to prepare the students for testing day. At least some, if not all, of the assessments given to the students throughout the school year should include questions similar to what they will see on the standardized test.

Not all standardized tests are simply made of multiple choice questions. Some include free response, multiple correct answers, diagram labeling, and matching questions, so it is important to find out what types of questions will be on the standardized test your students will be taking. Consider the wording and length of the sample questions and try to write your own assessment questions in a similar format. While it may not be the best way to truly assess what a student understands, many standardized test questions are lengthy and distracting to students. It is important for them to practice with all of these types of questions throughout the school year to keep them from being surprised or confused on test day.

Teach Test-Taking Strategies All Year

In the midst of the race to teach your entire curriculum before the standardized test, it can be easy to overlook test-taking skills until right before testing day. This is not a good plan! Test-taking skills must be taught and practiced, just like any other academic skill. Teaching one or two test-taking strategies before each in-class assessment and frequently reviewing previously learned strategies will help students form the habits required to be a good tester. Consider offering rewards or incentives for students you see using good test-taking skills like crossing off answers, highlighting key parts of the question, and reviewing answers before submitting the test during in-class assessments. Many students see these strategies as a waste of time and want to rush through tests to get on to the next fun activity, but following these simple steps can keep careless mistakes from reducing test scores.

Use Technology during Review

You probably know that it is important to leave some class time for review before testing day, but it is essential that review time is used wisely to boost student scores. Before reviewing material, give students a pre-test. If you use a released sample standardized test or make your own as much like the actual standardized test as possible, then your pre-test also serves as a study tool.

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