Preparing Your Kids for Standardized Testing
It’s that time of year again—test time! From typical routine tests to those big standardized ones, just saying the word “test” around kids can make them panic. So, as a parent, what are some strategies for success? How do you help your child succeed without putting too much pressure on them?
We asked local testing experts, Bob Morgan and April Bruce, for advice. Bob Morgan is the Regional Director of Sylvan Learning and April Bruce is the Director of Data, Assessment & Accountability for Lynchburg City Schools. Here are your top questions, answered by these test prep professionals:
Q: As a parent, what are the most important things I should know about standardized testing?
Bob Morgan: “You need to remember perspective, performance, and process.”
“Perspective: For students, up until high school, testing is simply a benchmark; a look at one student on one day in one subject. So, parents need to relax. No child’s future was determined by how she performed on a standardized test in math in 7th grade.”
“Performance: As a student gets older, tests have greater consequences. An SOL tied to a core high school subject must be passed in order to gain the necessary credit toward graduation.”
“Process: Learning to manage tests requires ongoing effort by a student. Developing a study process along with sound academic understanding, like vocabulary, is necessary for ongoing success.”
Q: My daughter gets really nervous during tests. How can I help her stay calm and focused?
April Bruce: “Most students get nervous when facing a test. That’s normal. The best way to calm her nerves is for her to feel confident that she knows the material. Her teachers work hard to cover all testing material, but it’s also important for you to review a little information with her each night in order to avoid intense cramming sessions the night before or the morning of a test. Help your daughter with relaxation techniques like deep breathing. Help her eliminate distractions. Encouraging her to do her best and rewarding effort will help her succeed.”
Q: My kids are young and are unsure what to expect from standardized testing. What can I do to help them?
Bob Morgan: “How you talk to young students is important. As a parent, you must consider not only what you say, but also what your child hears. Some parents try to convey a message of ‘just do your best.’ That may sound good, but elementary school students might construe ‘best’ as the best grade, or an A. So the child may think, ‘Mom says I have to get an A.’ Focus on the effort and not the result. The effort is what counts, and a good effort leads to a good result. Parents should explain that doing your best is studying, reviewing, and then showing what you know.”
Q: My son is experienced with standardized testing, but lacks motivation. How can I help him understand the importance of these exams?
April Bruce: “Testing serves an important purpose: it allows teachers and parents to see how students are progressing. It also allows teachers to customize instruction for each student.”
“Encouragement at home builds students’ confidence and increases motivation. Tell your son how proud you are of him, and encourage him to do his best. Strong classroom instruction coupled with support from home will equip him with what he needs to be successful.”
Q: The morning of a big test, what can I do to ensure the kids are ready?
Bob Morgan: “For a child to be ready on test day, the process truly starts months in advance. Our local schools work throughout the winter and spring months to create a preparation system. The morning of a big test, make sure your children are well-rested, eliminate or reduce distractions, and give them a protein-rich breakfast. Also, reduce screen time the night before or—better yet—the week before the test. Focus conversations on making a good effort. Younger children need to know that, regardless of the outcome, mom and dad will still love them unconditionally; an academic test is not a relationship test.”
Q: Any tips for teens preparing to take the SAT/ACT?
April Bruce: “SAT/ACT scores are used as an admission requirement for 4-year bachelor’s degree programs. Lynchburg City Schools have created a support system to help high schoolers prepare for these exams. The PSAT (preliminary SAT) is administered to all tenth graders in October. PSAT scores help students know areas of strength and weakness prior to taking the SAT. Each Lynchburg City high school offers courses to help students prepare for these tests. Parents can also purchase study guides that include practice tests. Colleges are interested in the highest score obtained, so a student can choose to take the SAT/ACT multiple times, then send the highest score to colleges.”
By Claire Molineaux Foster