The Whiteboard

Problems Plaguing Test-Takers

What can classroom teachers do?

As a teacher, it can be frustrating when good students score poorly on standardized tests. Many educators feel as if all of their hard work is diminished when students do not perform as well as expected. 

As president and founder of the Kelly MacLean Achievement Center, specializing in standardized test preparation as well as several other college preparatory services, I have noticed several issues over the years that frequently stump even the most studious test-takers. 

Here is a list of four common problems plaguing test-takers, and the corresponding ways educators can weave test-taking strategies and solutions into their daily curriculums. 

Problem #1: Students do not understand the science question because it is intentionally worded or formatted in a way intended to confuse or deceive the reader. 

Strategy: Teachers can guide students through the process of taking notes from test questions, paying close attention to commas and periods.

Problem #2: Students often struggle to comprehend wordy math questions and fail to pay attention to the details. As a result, students tend to lose sight of what the questions are asking.

Strategy: Teachers can train students to pull numbers and shapes out of math questions to clarify the information presented. Then, students can identify and circle exactly what answer the math problem is looking for in their notes. 

Problem #3: Most students do not fully understand proper comma use, which is often a focus of standardized English tests. Students often struggle to see the difference between true lists, cumulative adjectives, coordinate adjectives, and parenthetical phrases.

Strategy: Teachers can focus on practicing proper comma usage, and differentiating between different situations where commas should be used by providing examples.  

Problem #4: Reading often poses a challenge for students with both comprehension and timing. Often, students are just reading words and trying to remember them. 

Strategy: Teachers can train students to picture what they are reading as though it is a movie. Recalling details will require much less time and effort if students can ‘“see” what they are reading. Standardized tests often focus on feelings that are inferred by using common words in unexpected places rather than explicitly stating the feelings. If students can visualize the story, they will pick up on the cues these words provide.

While standardized tests are fairly consistent in the content they test, most teachers do not have time to dissect each test to understand the challenges presented to students. These tips can be woven into your classwork throughout the year to help students refine their test-taking and critical thinking skills. If students feel like they are prepared and know the “tricks,” it can lessen their anxiety and allow them to excel on standardized tests.   

Kelly is the founder of Kelly MacLean Achievement Center. For the past 10 years, she has helped students find their best-fit path and achieve their dreams. The key to success is finding the right door!


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