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The Most Effective Thing I’ve Done To Prepare Students For Standardized Tests


We’ve recently begun our two week session of state testing. I’ve written many posts about preparing for these tests (see The Best Posts On How To Prepare For Standardized Tests (And Why They’re Bad)). Unfortunately, because of space limitations, the chapter I wrote on dealing with state tests was pulled from my newest book and won’t be published until next year in its sequel.

However, I did want to share what is clearly the most effective thing I’ve done to prepare students for standardized tests — apart, of course, from teaching a good curriculum.

Plenty of research shows that student motivation plays a huge role in test results. I’ve previously posted about Angela Duckworth and her research into “grit” (perseverance). In fact, my newest book has a complete lesson plan on that topic. Basically, a fair amount of research has shown that grit is a key, perhaps THE key, quality essential to life success.

Because of what students have learned through that lesson, I have been able to talk about the state tests (and many other topics) in that context. I am very clear with them that I do not believe that the tests provide any kind of accurate measurement of their intelligence. I do remind them, though, about what we have learned about grit, and we talk about trying their best on the test as just another opportunity for them to develop that quality and show themselves that they have it by taking it seriously, not just “bubbling” in answers, checking things twice, etc.

There are a number of other things we do related to the test — many which you’ll find described in my “The Best…” lists on tests that I cited earlier in this post. But it’s clear to me that this idea of “grit” has had the most impact on many levels. I see it as they are taking the tests and, when I talk with other teachers and they tell me when their students are done, it appears that most of mine take at least a half hour more than other classes to complete the tests.

I like it because I’m honest with students and don’t make-up reasons for why it’s important for them to try hard at the test, and that the motivation to do well comes more from them. It actually turns the tests into something meaningful — and that something is much, much more important than what the ultimate scores say.

Of course, there are also far more meaningful ways to develop grit, but we play the hand we are dealt…

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. A quarterly exam was compiled for the 6th grade students in my school. The students are asked to read the poem “The Jumblies”, by Edward Lear. (nonsense poetry) The first three questions are fine being that they can get the answers from the poem. The fourth question however, asks them to compare this poem with “a story that you’ve seen portrayed in a movie or a TV show. Write about “The Jumblies” and another poem or story that it reminds you of. Use specific examples from the “The Jumblies” to show why the two works are similar. ”
    I feel that due to the lack of experiences that my ESL students have in reading, tv shows and movies, (in English) this part of the test is unfair. Most have been in this country for just a year, and they have not been exposed to most of the above, nor were they able to read any stories in English…your thoughts?

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