Tests are "success benchmarks" during everyone's 12-year academic career. Used correctly, tests actually serve as "success stepping stones" rather than stumbling blocks. Enjoying "test success" both satisfies basic self-concept! achievement needs while motivating a student to strive for personal excellence.


Fear of academic failure is the leading "most difficult daily problem" American teenagers face today according to a 1994 Gallup poll. Equipping students with proven "test-taking tools" results in real-success experiences to triumph over imaginary fears. The confidence built from doing well on tests can then be carried into life's arena when faced with other challenges.


The ladder of success is sometimes built with small but measurable steps. (Although sometimes one can take the elevator to the "top".) Tests can help measure readiness for the next step toward goals. Also, knowing someone has "proven their knowledge" through testing raises the level of trust in them. The days of self-proclaimed experts are over. (Who would trust a "self-proclaimed" surgeon?)


Peak test performance requires today's students to be "smart" in three ways: "fact smart", "test smart" and "stress smart." "Fact smartness" is mastering what you need to know. "Test smartness" is knowing how to use facts on tests. "Stress smartness" is learning how to think calmly under test pressures.

"21st century" testing also measures the child's "whole brain thinking" skills. "Whole brain thinking" goes beyond traditional Left Brain (verbal, factual, logical) thinking, tapping also into Right Brain (creative problem solving, visual, emotional) abilities.

(Mastering what needs to be known)

1) Get the "Big Picture". Encourage students to read summaries, questions, headings and look at any graphs, drawings or pictures before reading the assignment. Have students call "Homework Hotline" from home.

2) "Seeing is Believing" for most students. "Teach Smart" by using graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and mapping. (See your school psychologist for more information on graphic organizers.)

3) Make meaningful memories by connecting to students' current interests (e.g. teach how percentages work for predicting rain/snow days). Let them know why they are learning something. (Learning to take tests will help them pass their driver's license test.)

4) Teach memory mechanics. The basic rule is repetition, repetition, repetition. Teach students that understanding a fact is not the same as mastering a fact (e.g. one can understand how to shoot baskets without being able to do it).

5) Require students to develop their own flashcards and stack the deck with only the memorized facts. Have them submit flashcards as an assignment immediately before the test.

6) Encourage note-taking while students are reading or listening, especially if the test requires written responses. Teach that "the faintest ink is better than the best memory" (Chinese proverb).

7) Divide and Conquer information overload by encouraging students to study for short sessions over several days/weeks rather than cramming the night before. Suggest a study calendar and weekly "progress check points" for students. Provide positive "feedback" on study progress.

8) If appropriate, provide a test-specific diagnostic survey to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. This will help the student spend the most time on weakest areas while building on strengths.

9) As a reward, have students play "not so trivial pursuit" by making up their own questions about material and quizzing a rival team.

10) Celebrate "Sticking to their test-prep schedule" with periodic rewards matched to the size of the efforts.

11) Make these tips part of each student's study habits by introducing them at the beginning of the year/course.

(Knowing how to use facts on tests)

Facts are necessary but not enough for top performance. Developing 'test-specific' skills improves test performance by drawing attention to small but important details. End of course, end of grade, criterion referenced tests, multiple choice tests all vary greatly on how learned facts and skills are to be used. (If you are unsure about the design of tests to be given this year, see your test coordinator.) Some general guidelines are:

Answer the core question, without being tripped up by "word traps" (irrelevant details) or generalizations (always, never, everywhere).

Teach students to "Pace not Race" through test items. Encourage students to answer those questions they feel they know, marking those difficult questions to return to later.

Emphasize that Multiple Choice Tests are not Multiple Guess Tests. Teach students to Choose not Guess on multiple choices. (This requires mastering problem solving skills.) When offered "multiple choices", anticipate the most correct answer before reading available choices. Then look for the best answer among those provided. If all the choices appear to be correct, select the most correct answer by eliminating wrong answers. Develop reasons why the other answers are wrong. (Again, students should mark and return to these most difficult questions after answering the more obvious questions.) Teachers might effectively demonstrate or model this technique using examples.

Develop the habit of having students build in enough time to check for wrong answers simply due to marking the wrong answers or misreading the questions the first time through.

All great performances start with rehearsal. Practice any and only those approved practice tests weeks before the actual test takes place. (See your test coordinator for approved pre-test activities.)

(Learning how to think calmly under test pressures)

Relaxation is "oil" in the machinery of thought. Strong emotions affect clear thinking. Calm, clear thinking is key to "best test performance". Over a half century of test anxiety research reveals that excessive stress.

Herbert Benson, M.D., Harvard researcher who coined the term "Relaxation Response", states the fact that students inducing the "relaxation response" immediately before exams do better (American Health page 63, September 1994) He also found that professionals who relax immediately before brain-storming generate more solutions to problems than~ those who do not relax. (Read the Relaxation Response for more information.)

The following suggestions may be useful to reduce excessive stress:


1) Conduct a "reality checklist" of what the student can expect in the testing situation. This will reduce stressful "surprise or shock reactions". (Always follow pre-test restrictions on what can be shared with students prior to testing.)

2) Prior to the testing situation, provide an exposure" to these "test reality conditions" as much as possible. That is, see your test coordinator on legitimate practice materials, and have students relax just before -and during the "test warm-up" sessions.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE: EXPECT THE BEST BUT RESPECT THE TEST: It is important for the student to have a positive attitude but this attitude must be combined _ with positive action.

POSITIVE PEER PRESSURE: Use the power of peer pressure to develop a "pre-game" winning spirit toward an upcoming test. Students could create posters on the rewards -for doing well on tests. Have students bring in appropriate cartoons about test taking.

GOOD MODELING BY ALL ADULTS: Students will catch adults' anxiety about tests and this "secondary stress" can hamper their peak performance. Even the tone of voice used in reading pre-test and test instructions will raise or lower test anxiety. Modeling "grace under pressure" in front of students will show it is possible to stay calm and succeed under stressful conditions.

RELAXATION TRAINING: See your mental health professional on relaxation training tips or methods to identify children at risk for excessive test anxiety. It typically takes several weeks to learn how to relax under testing conditions.


The combined strength of being "fact smart", "test smart" and "stress smart" assures that students will "do their best on tests" now and in the 21st century.

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