Surviving Standardized Tests: Helping Students Make the Grade

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Helping Students Make the Grade

With standardized tests right around the corner, teachers may worry about their students’ ability to succeed on the test – especially with the transition many states are making to Common Core-aligned tests. In New Jersey, the NJ ASK test this year will still be used, but beginning with the 2014-15 school year, the PARCC Assessment will be implemented, along with many other states that will either use PARCC or the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Obviously, teaching to the standards year-round is the best test prep available, but there is still one component that has the potential to confuse students and prevent them from doing their best: the test questions and test directions.

Helping Students Make the Grade

As a teacher, you’ve probably witnessed occasions where the student knew the information, but his or her response was completely off base – simply because he or she did not understand the question fully or did not follow the directions. And though carelessness or lack of focus may be the culprit at times, there are other instances where the student really doesn’t understand what is being asked of him or her. To better help students in these situations, educating them on commonly used test terminology may prepare them to understand both the questions and directions.

In our middle school, we have started to create lists with “test-related” vocabulary words. Each week, the teachers have been asked to expose students to the words and explain how those words are used within that particular discipline. For example, with the word “predict”, the science teacher would use that term during science lessons throughout the week, along with Social Studies, Math, and English Language Arts. Students not only become familiar with the term through repetition but also begin to learn the subtle differences in how that term is used across the various subject areas.

Though this list is far from complete with every word a student may encounter, here’s a partial list of words that may put students in a better position when it comes to understanding the questions and directions on a standardized test:

• Analyze & Synthesize
• Compare & Contrast
• Describe
• Cite evidence
• Summarize & Retell
• Predict
• Explain & Describe
• Interpret
• Evaluate
• Infer
• Support
• Refer
• Articulate

PARCC Test Practice: Online Resources for Educators

In addition to these words, teachers are cognizant of the importance of exposing children to subject-area specific vocabulary as well. For example, in English Language Arts, teachers may emphasize words such as mood, tone, point of view, etc., while Math teachers may focus on academic vocabulary words like solve, evaluate, and so on.

The more familiar these words become for students, the more likely they will feel comfortable with these same words in a testing situation. And the fact that they begin to make connections between these words in all content areas allows students to understand the interconnectedness between disciplines – as well as subject-specific differences. Taking measures to eliminate confusion on terminology can go a long way when it comes to a student’s comfort level and ability to feel confident (and demonstrate true knowledge) in a testing situation.

For more ideas of vocabulary to teach your students, see:


Julie Lyons