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My Bright Middle-Schooler Has Problems With Tests

Kathy Glass
Kathy Glass

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator


My 11-year-old has been having problems with standardized and entrance exams. She's otherwise a pretty good student (in public school gifted program in K-5). Now that she is in middle school, thankfully at a public charter school, I am concerned with how well she'll do overall in the coming years, especially at the middle school level.


Keep in mind that your child's performance on a standardized test is just one measure to judge how well she performs in school. Educators consider multiple measures - such as scores on standardized tests, classroom grades and observations - to gain a broad profile of a student. Within these multiple measures, teachers use both formal and informal assessments. Standardized tests, chapter texts, quizzes, and essays are examples of formal assessments whereas participation in classroom discussion, completion of a creative project, and journal writing are more informal assessments. It's important to remember that standardized tests are just one piece, and to keep that in perspective.<

With that said, though, I understand your concern that you would like your daughter to have a better handle on taking standardized tests since they probably are not going away in her future school years. She might have anxiety if she performs poorly since she is typically a good student and seemingly conscientious. You might ask your child's teacher if she will provide test-taking tips during the school day. Learning these skills would help her become a better-rounded student since she seems to excel in other aspects of studying and assessment. If your daughter's teacher is not receptive to providing test-taking strategies, approach an administrator and ask him about arranging a test-taking class after school. If all else fails or to add on to what happens at school, try the following at home:

1. Prepare for test-taking. Getting plenty of rest and eating a healthy breakfast is important before any test. Also, students should wear comfortable clothing and bring many sharpened pencils.

2. Testing setting/format. Discuss with your daughter that during a test-taking situation teachers will usually set a time limit. Some tests are issued in chunks and spread out over a few days with each day devoted to 20 to 40 minutes of test-taking. The classroom is quiet, so make sure she knows that no noise is tolerated. Explain the format for many standardized tests (e.g., true/false, multiple choice).

3. Test-taking tips. Review test-taking strategies, such as the following:

  • Read the directions of each test section carefully. Many students get answers wrong simply because they did not take the time to understand or listen to directions fully prior to answering questions.
  • Read each question carefully and then review all the answers before selecting the correct one. Use process of elimination to select the correct answer. Try to answer all of the questions if you can.
  • Usually your first answer is the correct one, so do not be eager to change your answer unless you are sure that the first answer was incorrect.
  • With any extra time, review all of the answers.
  • There will be students who finish early and might make some noise. Tell your daughter to try and stay focused, and avoid being distracted by others.

4. Practice test-taking. Buy a test-taking workbook. Many teacher-supply houses or online stores have test-taking books that you can purchase. Kathy Glass Search for appropriate grade level and subject-specific books, and practice test-taking at home. Tell your child that you will time her while taking the test to simulate a classroom situation. Make sure the room where she is taking the test is quiet and free of distractions. Review any answers she missed and discuss these errors.

Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Thanks for the info. However the State tests are used to decide whether or not to pass a child to the next grade. They shouldn't be, but that's what happens. Even if the student is an A/B student - they will tell us that if they fail the state test - they don't advance. Which in my opinion is very wrong (and hmm... a child is 'left behnd'...)"