24 August 2009 02:13 PM

Taking Tests in Middle School

by Dr. Rick

This month the Dr. Rick Blog is dealing with Back to School topics for students and their parents.  So far we’ve discussed strategies for

For the next few days, let’s concentrate on the skill that seems to strike fear into the hearts of so many students – taking tests.  Tests are everywhere in schools, and parents, communities, states, and, indeed the nation, are paying close attention to how students perform on them.  Whether we approve of or oppose all this testing is not the subject here.  As long as we have them, students need to know how to prepare for and take them.


We’ll break down our topics for the next few days into

  • middle school students’ studying for and taking tests
  • high school students’ studying for and taking tests
  • parents’ roles in the testing process

Let’s start with middle schoolers.


So, you’re in a new school and learning takes on a completely different form from what you’re used to.  (See my blog of 16 July 2009 on school transitions for details.)  There’s enough to worry about without fretting about all those tests you’re going to be taking – teacher-made tests like spelling and social studies quizzes, school-wide tests for everyone, and those state and national tests that track students’ progress.  Now’s the time to start the habits that will be helpful to you in high school, college, jobs, and life.


It’s my opinion, formed from decades of teaching, that the more you’re prepared the better you’re going to do.  Here are some tips to help you be prepared.  Preparation calms nerves, boosts confidence, and, most important, ensures learning, which, after all, is the whole purpose behind all this testing, isn’t it?

  1. Know your learning style.  What kind of learner are you?  Know what works best for you.  Some kids, for example, like to get their homework done right after school, while others need some time to expend a little energy first.  Some kids learn best early in the morning, others learn best at night.  Some need to see and visualize what they’re learning about, others need to hear about it.  Know what works best for you.  Parents, don’t try to force your children into your learning style.  It may not fit.

  2. Pay attention in class.  This is important.  (See my blogs of 14 August 2009 and 17 August 2009.)  Listen to what your teacher is saying, pay attention to her instructions – especially about tests – and listen to what your classmates contribute to lessons.

  3. Take good notes.  Organize yourself, your notebook, and your habits in class.  (See my blog of 20 August 2009 about taking good notes in class.)  Take time daily to update your notebook – nothing worse than a messy pile of notes that you can’t decipher.

  4. Review.  Go over your notes daily.  Set up a routine that enables you to review daily.  You’ll find that studying will be much easier when you’re not trying to learn too much in a single sitting.

  5. Get help.  If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m a strong proponent of “study buddies,” friends who study together, support each other, compete with each other, and help each other stay on track.  Also, ask your teachers for help.  Show them the notes you’ve been keeping.  Ask, “Am I studying the right material?”  Ask your parents to quiz you, to help you keep on schedule, to help you set up good study routines.  Let them see how important this is to you.  They’ll be impressed.

  6. Be early.  Start studying for tests long before the day of the test.  Study early, completely, actively.  Have all of your materials at hand, well organized.  Study in short periods.  Don’t try to cram it all into one night of studying.  It won’t work.  Quiz yourself.  Ask your study buddy to quiz you, too.  Return the favor.

  7. Don’t put it off.  Putting off studying is a deadly habit, one that’s hard to break.  Get yourself in the habit of studying a little bit each day, whether you have a test coming up or not.  The more you review, the more you’re going to retain.  That’s good whether you’re going to be tested on it or not.

  8. Slow down at test time.  When you’re actually taking the test, allot yourself the right amount of time.  Work quickly without racing through the test.  It’s an old saying, but it’s still true – “Haste makes waste.”

  9. Use common sense.  During the test, answer the questions you’re most confident about first.  Then go to sections of the test that are worth the most points.  In multiple choice tests, eliminate the answers that are clearly incorrect.  Watch for what I call “danger signal words,” like “never” and “always.” And, the most important test-taking tip – read the directions carefully. 

  10. Take care of yourself.  You’ve heard this before, but it won’t hurt to hear it again.  Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, and keep your confidence up.  Remind yourself of all the work you’ve done to prepare for the test.


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