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Slide 1: Welcome to the unit on test-taking skills. My name is Kevin Daberkow. I am a teacher and teacher educator and am also working as a researcher for the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.

Slide 2: This unit describes some general test-taking skills as well as skills specific to answering different kinds of test questions.  As a paraprofessional, you can help students master these skills and perhaps improve their scores on classroom tests as well as standardized tests.

Slide 3: A student’s mastery of the concepts and skills measured by a test is the most important factor in how well the student does on the test. Nevertheless, two students who both know the same concepts and skills equally well might earn different test scores, perhaps one or two letter-grades apart, simply because one is more skilled in test-taking.

Slide 4: Some test-taking skills apply to virtually all tests.  Chief among these are (1) reading test questions and instructions carefully; (2) using time wisely by budgeting and using the entire allotted test time; and (3) responding fully to the test by guessing, estimating, and approximating correct answers. More details about these strategies are presented next.

Slide 5:  Read the Question Carefully.  One of the most important things to do in taking a test is something that sounds obvious but that many students fail to do:  Read each test question carefully before answering it. Skimming through the whole test as soon as it is handed to the student is a good idea; but when the student is ready to start answering the questions, it’s time for careful reading.

Slide 6: Read the Instructions Carefully.  Related to careful reading of test questions is the importance of reading the instructions on the test, including the instructions for different sections of the test if it is divided into sections. The instructions typically tell how to answer the questions, for example by circling the correct answer; how much time is allowed for completing the section; how many points each question in a section is worth; or whether there is a penalty for guessing (that is, for putting down an incorrect answer).

Slide 7: Use Test Time Effectively.  Reading the instructions on the test first is necessary for the test-taker to know how to budget the time allotted for the test. Spending too much time on one part of the test or a question that is unusually difficult may cause students to lose points they could have earned if they had moved on to other questions.  After answering all the test questions, students can improve their scores by using remaining time to check their work.

Slide 8: Respond as Completely as Possible.  Students’ ability, or willingness, to guess, approximate, and include as much as possible of what they’ve learned can affect their test scores as well.  Some students are reluctant to answer at all unless they’re certain their answer is correct.  Teaching these students to use what they have learned to narrow down the choices on multiple-choice and true/false questions and to construct more complete short answer and essay answers can lead to improved test scores.

Slide 9: Different types of questions can demand different test-taking skills. There are two major types of questions—closed-ended and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions have one right answer that the test-taker either supplies or selects. Open-ended questions can have many right answers, and the test-taker constructs the answer to reflect his or her understanding or interpretation of the topic. Another name for open-ended questions is extended-response questions.

Slide 10: Responding to closed-ended questions, such as multiple-choice and true/false questions, requires reasoning about the likelihood that a particular response choice (for example, true or false or one of four choices) is correct. This reasoning helps the test-taker eliminate less probable choices. Open-ended questions, such as short-answer and essay questions, require students to elaborate on what they know. They measure knowledge of a topic and also the ability to write about the topic. Let’s look at some specific strategies for answering questions of different types;

Slide 11:We’ll start with multiple-choice and true/false questions.  Because there’s a chance of selecting the correct answer even without knowing it’s correct, multiple-choice and true/false questions should never be left unanswered unless there’s a penalty for guessing. On most tests, the test-taker can improve her score by guessing, but if tests deduct points for incorrect answers, guessing may result in a lower score than not answering would.  When taking standardized exams students should ask the teacher proctoring the test whether answering test questions incorrectly hurts their score more than leaving questions unanswered.

Slide 12: Because multiple-choice questions present a small number of response choices, students may end up with the right answer even when they aren’t certain of the answer. Their chances of making a correct guess improve if they can use what they know to eliminate wrong answers. In the question below, for example, with only four choices, students have a 25%, that is, a one-in-four chance of choosing the correct answer even if they have no idea which answer is actually correct. If they could eliminate two answers they know are wrong, they then would have a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right answer.

Famous sharp-shooter, Annie Oakley, one of the first American women to become internationally famous as a performer, was born in which of the following locations:

  • Floyd County, Kentucky
  • Boone, County, West Virginia
  • Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • Darke County, Ohio

Slide 13: True/false questions have an even greater possibility for luck to favor students who understand the odds. Students have a fifty-fifty chance of getting the right answer even if they have no idea whether the statement is true or false. Knowing the correct answer is far superior to guessing, of course; and knowing the correct answer depends on knowing what is being asked.  True/false questions require especially careful reading, as they are sometimes phrased in ways that can mislead the careless reader. One way that even careful readers can be misled or confused is by recognizing that part of the statement is true. In properly constructed and scored true/false tests, if any part of the statement is false, then the entire statement is to be answered “false.” True/false questions may also contain a negative word, such as “not,” that students sometimes do not see, particularly if they are reading quickly. Look at the question on the slide. Do you think that the use of “not” in the sentence truly helps a teacher learn if the student understands the content? Or is it just a trick?

A hybrid breed of bear, offspring of a polar bear and a grizzly bear has not been discovered in the arctic region.

  • True
  • False

Slide 14:Now let’s look at some of the open-ended types of questions, starting with essay questions. Students who do well on essay questions understand that approximations of correctness often enable them to earn partial credit. Students who apply this principle spend as much exam time as they can on their essay response—even when they’re not sure their response is completely on target. Essay questions can be difficult to interpret, and students should ask the teacher for clarification if they’re not sure of the meaning of the question. Doing so can keep them from wasting time answering a question they’ve misunderstood.  In reading the question below, students might not be sure whether to write about soldiers as well as civilians, people across the entire United States or only in the East and Midwest, people who lived in the border states, or only people who lived in both the North and South.

Describe the effects of the Civil War on people living in the North and in the South during the war.

Slide 15: Essay questions used on open-book tests can be especially demanding because teachers expect more thoughtful and lengthy responses on such tests.  In preparing for open-book tests, students need to master not only the content on which they will be tested, but how to write, organize, and familiarize themselves with their notes so they can quickly find key terms, dates, and other information to support their answers.

Slide 16: Teachers and other test-scorers are often influenced by the appearance of the essay.  A neatly written answer sometimes has a “halo” effect and may earn a few points that might not have been given to the same answer in careless handwriting or one that is difficult to read because of mark-throughs. Students should be encouraged to present their answer as neatly as they can without spending undue time on appearance.

Slide 17:Short-answer and fill-in-the-blank questions combine some features of closed-ended questions and some features of open-ended questions.Test-takers do supply the answer—so there may not be just one word or phrase that represents the right answer. In that way, the questions are open-ended. But the set of acceptable answers is limited. So a fill-in-the-blank question like, “At Halloween, people often carve ________ [BLANK]” might have acceptable answers including “Jack-o-Lanterns,” “pumpkins,” or even “lanterns.” The fact that these questions don’t allow for much interpretation make them like closed-ended questions.

Slide 18: Preparing for short-answer questions often involves more memorization than does preparing for other kinds of questions, and the questions are generally more simply stated than essay questions. But short-answer test questions also require careful reading. They often have multiple parts; and students need to answer each part. A student reading this question, for example, might skim over the “define” instruction and focus on the direction to draw and label a plant.

Define “photosynthesis” and draw a plant with all the basic parts used in the process of photosynthesis.  Be sure to label the parts of the plant.

Slide 19: Fill-in-the-blank questions, a type of short-answer question, supply a sentence or phrase that narrows the choices to a considerable degree and may offer grammatical or other subtle clues to help the test-taker supply the correct answer.  Students should read the entire sentence in which the blank occurs and think about what word or words would complete the sentence most accurately and fully.  Sometimes the word just before or after the blank can help narrow the possible answers. The noun “attitudes” suggests that an adjective should go in the blank.

Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is narrated by a six-year-old White girl nicknamed “Scout,” who is confronted with tragedy brought about by   _______________ [BLANK] attitudes typical of the South in the 1930s.

Slide 20: As a paraprofessional working with students individually or in small groups, you can target test-taking suggestions to their needs. When they have a test coming up, you can help them learn the test-taking skills most pertinent to the test if you know what types of questions (multiple-choice, essay, or other types) are used on the test. After they’ve taken the test, you may be able to help students who are disappointed in their test performance by discussing how they used their test-taking skills and how they might use those skills more effectively next time.

Module: Helping with Instruction

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