Preparing English Language Learners for Standardized Testing

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  • 0:03 Standardized Tests for ELLs
  • 0:59 Predictability of Exams
  • 2:03 Need to Improve English Skills
  • 2:30 Test Preparation for ELLs
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

English language learners (ELLs) may dread standardized testing in English, unless they have proper preparation. This lesson helps teachers understand how ELLs approach and perform on standardized exams and goes over how to prepare them for these tests.

Standardized Tests for ELLs

Perhaps the biggest obstacle English language learners (ELLs) face when taking a standardized exam is uncertainty about English vocabulary and meaning. When this doubt exists, it can cause ELLs to lose focus, second-guess answers, and waste time worrying. Standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, and GRE are designed for native English speakers, so in addition to the academic knowledge required to perform well on these exams, ELLs must also navigate through potentially unfamiliar terminology and language use.

A standardized test is often required for entry into college or other advanced academic programs. This can create immense pressure on an ELL and can negatively impact both test expectations and performance. It's important to remember that ELLs are not provided with any accommodations like translated instructions or increased time on standardized exams.

Predictability of Exams

The simple fact is that some students perform better on exams than others. Students who excel in the classroom may freeze up or blank out when an exam paper is placed before them. There are two general strategies that can help you prepare ELLs for standardized exams:

  • The predictability of standardized tests
  • The need to improve English language skills

You can use the predictability of standardized exams to avoid or even eliminate performance anxiety. Standardized tests are repetitive by nature, so even though the content of the questions will change, the overall formatting of the test and structure of the language will remain fairly consistent. This consistency will allow you to tailor your instruction to create the best conditions for your ELLs to comprehend and absorb the information they need.

When you teach students how to approach a standardized test, it's important that you don't teach to the test. The knowledge you're imparting should be useful long after any exams have been completed. This can be accomplished by using test questions for practice and review, but not as the sole source of information and study.

Need to Improve English Skills

Of course, the better an ELL's English skills, the easier it will be for the student to navigate standardized exams in English, so students should improve their English skills as much as possible before taking a standardized test. Another helpful solution involves identifying and targeting problem language areas. As the teacher, you know the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. This insight should guide you as you create lesson plans and deliver content to your learners.

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