FAIRWEATHER: Test taking 101: Tips and tactics

Tommy Fairweather, Teachable Moments

Frequently, a parent will ask me to help their child study for tests.  This article presents specific tips I have developed over the years working with children at many grade levels.

First, children must understand that learning doesn’t just happen. Learning is a process where the teacher imparts knowledge through direct instruction, requires text to be read, assigns homework and tests progress. The student must be involved in all of these steps to gain the desired knowledge and prove that it has been gained.

Learning through direct instruction requires, at minimum, that the student pay attention to the teacher. Success at this demands that the student listen, take notes, and ask questions. Students must listen to the teacher with full attention. If something said is not clear, then that is the time to get it straight.  Careful listening is required not only to get the required information, but to get clues of what will be on the tests. 

For example, teachers may repeat some items, especially concepts or definitions. Or, teachers may even raise their voices to stress key items that students may find on the test.

The September/October 2013 issue of "Scientific American Mind" has an article on the best ways to study, based on research. It was found that using flash cards was the most effective. Students should make their own flashcards using their text and classroom instruction. One side of the flash card has a word or concept. The other side contains the definition of that word or concept. There are apps that allow for the creation of flash cards on mobile devices.  The article further recommends that the flash cards should be made as soon as possible when starting a new chapter and be studied — repeatedly.

Students should learn how to write questions that could be on the test. The idea is that they can predict what might be asked, thus preparing themselves in advance. There are four basic test formats. They are multiple choice, fill in the blank, short answer and short essay.

Multiple choice questions are where a question is asked and answer choices are given.  The student must make the right choice. By predicting these type of questions and researching possible answers, the student will quickly learn to find the right one. Multiple choice questions are the most frequently encountered because they are used in the FCAT exams.

Fill in the blank questions are where the student is given a statement that lacks a key word that must be entered to correctly complete the statement.

Short answer questions require the student to provide the answer to the question with a short statement, written in complete sentences.

Short essay questions require the students to summarize a concept in their own words. These questions aim at the student’s ability to define major science or social studies concepts. These should be answered in brief complete sentences that fully define the answer. A good reference book for writing short and essay answers is "Better Answers" by Ardith Davis Cole.  The book provides specific teaching tips.

A few tips for answering questions on the real test are as follows:

·         Underline the keyword that will drive the answer.

·         When taking a multiple choice test, mark P (possible) and NP (not possible) alongside choices given for answers. Then choose the best possible answer.

·         Do not turn in your answers right away.  Go over them until you have to turn in the test.

·         Check that every question has been answered and that your name and date are on the answer sheet.

Teaching your children how to study and to take tests will pay off with higher grades and an increased potential for winning scholarships later in their academic life. Remember the old saying, “Teach a person how to fish, and you will help that person have food for life.” This approach will also turn your children into lifelong learners.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.