My first encounter with standardized tests was as a third-grader in the 1970s. I can still remember the anxiety I felt as my teacher announced that we had to take these tests, and that our test scores would be compared to other children’s.
She did not reveal the full scope of why we were being tested. I didn’t realize the impact of our test scores on school budgets and my teacher’s reputation as an educator until much later.
As the 1980s and early 1990s approached, a gap in standardized test scores was noticed between African American children and teenagers compared to White children and teenagers. In the research report, titled The Black-White Test Score Gap, David Grissmer and his colleagues attribute the narrowing test score gap to class-size reduction and more demanding coursework implemented in the 1960s and early 1970s. (They focus their attention not on SAT scores, but rather on reading and math tests given to 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds.)
The researchers suggest that teenage violence among African Americans might have contributed to the widening of the gap starting at the end of the 1980s, but they warn that this is insufficient to explain all of it.
In light of today’s achievement gap, what can parents do to give their kids an advantage? For starters, parents can help to get their children test ready. Below are some ways that parents can prepare their children to take tests well.
Do help your child avoid test anxiety. It’s good for your child to be concerned about taking a test, but it’s not good for him to develop “test anxiety.” Test anxiety is worrying too much about doing well on a test.
Anxious, nervous kids can become very self-critical and lose confidence in their abilities. Instead of feeling challenged by the test, they become afraid of failure.
Help your child to plan ahead. Encourage studying for the test well in advance. Make sure that they understand what material the test will cover. Try to make connections about what will be on the test and what they already know.
Never encourage “cramming” the night before an exam or test. This will likely increase anxiety, which will interfere with clear thinking. Continuous study always gives better results than last-minute cramming.
Teach your child to focus on good learning habits. When they break down the material into smaller chunks and study in short bursts, they tend to remember more because concentration is optimal, and they are still alert. Long study sessions tend to tire students out and progressively become less effective. Ensure that your child gets a good night’s sleep.
Flashcards can be used when your child is getting ready for a test with a partner or studying alone. Flashcards work best if your child is the one to create them. Not only do they get the benefit of repetition, but they also have the benefit of physically writing down study material.
If possible, find standardized tests from previous years and give them to your child as practice. These tests are available online. Your child can go through hundreds of questions and get a chance to test their knowledge while getting acquainted with the test format at the same time.
Everyone has certain facts, figures, definitions and dates that they find difficult to remember. Have your child write down difficult information on a special study sheet. This sheet can be referenced immediately before the test to refresh the memory.
Getting ready for a test is mentally and emotionally draining. If your child doesn’t have a study buddy, volunteer yourself.
Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.