Achieving Their Best Test: Preparing Your Students for the Testing Experience

What do eggs, bubbles, and two sharp pencils have in common? They’re all connected to success in achievement tests! Allen Troyer has helped schools improve their testing experience for more than twenty years. In this video, he models best practices in preparing your students to be at their best for achievement tests.

Good morning, boys and girls.

Good morning.

Today we’re going to start our achievement tests. Did you get a good night’s sleep? Did you get a good breakfast?

One first grade girl went home and told her mom, “Mom, you have to fix me eggs.” Mom raised her eyebrows because this girl hated eggs, but mom fixed her an egg and she dutifully choked it down and she came to school ready for achievement tests.

Are the children learning what they need to know in order to function well in the home, in the business, in the local community, and of course in the church?

Okay, students, you may not be in the same classroom this morning for the tests, but we want to make sure you understand what you’re doing and that you know where you’re going to be taking your test. First grade, you’re going to be up in Room 1, and Sister Kayla is going to be giving you your test. You know where Room 1 is? Yes, that’s our classroom. That’s our teacher. Second grade and third grade, you’re going to be in Room 2 with Sister Bear. You know where that is, because that’s where you normally are.

Fourth and fifth grade, you’re going to be in a different spot. You’re going to be in the kitchen and Sister Laurel is going to be giving you your tests. Then sixth, seventh and eighth, you’re going to be in Room 3, and I’m going to be supervising your tests. High schoolers, you will be right across the curtain in Room 4 and we’ll have the curtain open and I’ll be giving instructions to both sets of you.

Then I would quietly tell Susanna that she will be in the library with sister Crystal. She’s learning disabled, she’s going to be taking the test all by herself. We won’t be giving her the deadline, the time deadlines that we would give to the other students, and just see what she can do.

Now students, before you start taking the test, make sure that you have two sharp pencils—your teachers will give you time to sharpen your pencils—or that you have a good Eversharp with nice dark lead to fill in the bubbles. You also should have a good eraser and you need some scrap paper so that you can work out the math problems, and then fill out the answers on your sheets. And sorry, you’re not going to be able to use calculators on these tests.

Most of the problems on the test are multiple choice where you fill in the bubble beside the best answer. Here’s an example: “I heard the blank moo,” and you need to pick out the right answer or the best answer and fill in the bubble. “I heard the dog moo?” No. “I heard the cat moo.” No. By this time they’re just squirming in their seats. “I heard the cow moo?” Yes.

Okay, when you fill in your bubble, you don’t do it like this. You’re supposed to fill in a whole bubble nice and clean. If you make a mistake, you erase it just as cleanly as you can and you fill it in as neatly and as completely as you can. That’s how you do it. Now, a lot of your test problems are going to be way harder than this one, but that’s an example to get you started.

When you do the test, make sure that you take enough time to read each question carefully and answer it. If you don’t know the answer, you’re allowed to guess, but make sure that you at least read the question. If you’re not sure about an answer, you can skip over it and then come back to it later if you still have time left.

Your teachers are going to be giving you instructions as far as the time limits on each part of the test. They’ll give you instructions for filling in your answer sheets, and make sure you follow those carefully. When you get done with a section of the test, check back over your answers to make sure that they are marked correctly, and that you didn’t miss any of them. Please, don’t just go zipping through the test to get done before everybody else.

Invariably you have students that do that, they go racing through the tests, not even to necessarily beat everybody, but just to get done with it. You go back to them, and you say, “Are you done already?” “Yes.” “Well, maybe you should go back and check over the answers.” “Okay.” A minute flat, they’re done checking over the answers too. You can only do so much.

Students, it is important that you work as quietly as possible. I’m going to be moving around the classroom once in a while to see how it’s going. If you have a question, raise your hand and I’ll come over and whisper it to me so things are as quiet as they can be. If you get done early, you can have a book at your desk to read quietly, or if you want to work on school work, you can do that too, but just make sure you stay at your seat. We’re going to give you a short break in between testing sessions once a while, so you can use the restroom or get a drink. When you do that, make sure that you’re very quiet in the hallways, because other classes may still be taking tests.

Now, measurements can be more or less precise. The distance from Nappanee to Sarasota, Florida can be measured to within a tenth of a mile over a specific route. Then you get Susan’s achievement test back and it says she has a grade equivalent score of a 6.5 in her reading vocabulary—is that an actual accurate measurement? Can you be that precise? Well, precise numbers give you a good idea, but they’re not perfect, because the human mind is not subject to precise measurement. It changes from minute to minute.

We all have good days and bad days. We respond differently in mornings than we do late afternoons and evenings. There are variables that affect the human mind and the testing environment. If the classroom is 80 degrees inside, don’t expect students to do their best on a test. Or maybe there’s a branch thumping against the window or maybe the fire truck goes by, and poof, some of that concentration is gone.

Relationships will affect how a student does on a test. You have a different teacher come in to administer the test, one the students are not familiar with, and maybe just a little bit scared of, they probably won’t do as well as if the classroom teacher gives the test. Maybe I am trying to compete with Maryanne across the aisle and so I work a little extra hard compared to the student that says, “Well, I’m going to be at the bottom of my class anyhow, so I may as well not try.”

Health affects how people do on a test. If you have a headache, you simply can’t think as well. If you had a breakfast of Fruit Loops and 7 Up, you probably won’t do as well as if you had that egg, whether you liked it or not.

Then of course attitude, positive or negative attitude will definitely affect the test. That is part of part of why I like to have a little rah, rah, rah session, or whatever you want to call it, at the beginning of achievement test, to get them all excited about a very obvious answer. They go into it thinking, “Yes, we can do this.” Even when it gets hard, they know that there are going to be difficult problems and so they’re prepped for that.

I started teaching in the fall of 1985 and except for a year off of school, I taught for 10 years and then I was off for 16. I did carpenter work, I worked on the testing service, which I’d started during my first round of teaching, and then I came back on board in the fall of 2012.

I started the testing service in 1994, and—I primarily tell people—it was because I was lazy teacher. We would use the scoring sheets from CLE, we would count up the raw scores, and then we’d look up the grades in the back, like the percentile or grade equivalents and we’d write them on this record, and we draw the little line graph for each year. I finally got fed up with that.

Things gradually just matured over the years and changed. Last year, it was somewhere between 310 and 320 schools. I think we finally broke the 10,000 barrier as far as the number of tests per year. Early on, I was just tinkering around with it, and I don’t even remember who it was said, “You’ve got a really nice niche there. You really need to fill that.” That was just—a few things like that along the way definitely helped.

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