Creating Smart Test-Takers in Middle School Students

Equip your students with skills for taking tests and watch their scores soar.

By Mollie Moore

Students taking a test

How frequently do you hear a student say, “I’m not a good test-taker”? Testing well is an acquired skill that requires practice and refinement. Some students are able to pick up on test-taking strategies independently, but many need extra instruction. As kids grow older, tests have an increasing influence on their future. So what strategies can we teach middle school pupils to increase their chances of success? Let’s look at several overarching strategies and then I will offer a couple of skills that apply to particular subjects. If you are using technology for testing, take a few minutes to read the tips offered in this article, Tests and Technology: The Tools Your Students Will Need

General Test-Taking Skills

  • Answer every question - For middle school tests, students do not lose points for an incorrect answer. Going over the inevitable necessity for educated guessing can be beneficial for pupils. 
  • Use time wisely - With many standardized tests, the testing time is limited. Teach learners when to skip difficult questions and what to do if they finish early.
  • Eliminate incorrect answers - If they know some of the answers are wrong, the probablitly of guessing the right answer goes up. Demonstrate to the class how much the percentage increases as the number of possible answers decreases. This can motivate students to take more time on questions that seem difficult.
  • Do not change your answer unless you are certain the current answer is incorrect - Going with one’s gut on tests is sometimes the best strategy; it eliminates overthinking. 
  • Circle key words - This helps eliminate words that can confuse a test-taker and helps to focus attention on what is important. Key words can include the words not, why, because, and all the following except.
  • Read all labels, titles, boxes and footnotes - Test-makers love to throw off test-takers by using these items for questions. Ensure that the class is aware of this propensity.
  • Restate the question for extended response questions - Doing this helps the test-taker focus his response, thus making him more likely to answer the question correctly and completely.
  • Use caution with absolute words - Absolute words include all, every, and never. If an answer includes one of these words, it most likely is not the correct answer.
  • Prepare for the test outside of school - Test prep requires getting a good night’s sleep, eating a nutritious breakfast, and wearing comfortable, layered clothing the day of the test.
  • Fill in circles completely and avoid stray marks - Though middle school students know this one, it is surprising how frequently they turn in books with bubbles that are half-filled or that have a large mark down a page. Remind them to check these details when they finish. 

Skills by Subject

  • Reading - Read questions first - This helps the reader know what to look for and what to focus her attention on while reading the passage.
  • Reading - Underline and label answers in the passage - Let your pupils know that all of the answers are right on the test. They just need to find them, underline them, and label them. Underlining allows the individual to see that he has indeed answered the question, and labeling offers him quick reference when checking his answers. 
  • Math - Show your work! - No ifs, ands, or buts about it. This is a necessity!
  • Math - Master the concept of the opposite of operations - Prior to testing, be certain that your students understand this valuable skill. This will allow them to work backward on the math portion of the test. 
  • Math - Work backward - Working backward from an answer is a great way for test-takers to verify that they have arrived at the correct answer.

Test-taking strategies are guaranteed to raise test scores. Will you take the time to teach them? What strategies do you teach before testing? Share with the Lesson Planet Community.