Get Ready! For Standardized Tests / Edition 1

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Overview

With standardized, state-mandated testing starting as early as the first grade and continuing through high school, parents are concerned that their children may not be able to perform at grade level. Developed by professionals, here is the first and only grade-specific test preparation series geared toward parent and child, including expert tips for optimizing children's test performances.

Features:

  • Information on how schools use standardized tests
  • Explanations of the types of questions found on standardized tests
  • Practice sections on necessary verbal and math skills
  • Exercises, drills, and a full-length sample test with answers explained

Shirley Vickery, author of "Get Ready" Grade 6, has had 23 years experience providing psychological services to public school students. She is the current president of the South Carolina Academy of Professional Psychologists.

Carol Turkington, Series Editor, specializes in developmental psychology. Her articles on parenting and health have appeared in Parents, Psychology Today, and The New York Times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071360159
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Series: Get Ready for Standardized Tests Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 162
  • Product dimensions: 0.35 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 8.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Shirley Vickery, author of "Get Ready" Grade 6, has had 23 years experience providing psychological services to public school students. She is the current president of the South Carolina Academy of Professional Psychologists.

Carol Turkington, Series Editor, specializes in developmental psychology. Her articles on parenting and health have appeared in Parents, Psychology Today, and The New York Times.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Test-Taking Basics

Parents everywhere are hearing about the importance of standardized testing to their students’ academic performance and record. Sixth grade is a year when the testing demands for students seem to increase. Many states don’t test younger students, and others only begin to use the results for serious purposes when students get to sixth grade. Test scores are used in a variety of ways in different districts, but many schools use tests to determine the need for more tutoring or for summer school, or to determine promotion to the next grade. They also may be used to identify students for gifted and talented programs. As a result, the standardized testing process may provoke anxiety for students and parents alike.
We hope that this chapter will ease some of that anxiety by giving students and parents an idea of what to expect and how to prepare for the testing process in general.

How Parents Can Help
Where do you start if you want to work with your sixth grader to prepare for standardized tests? In general, you should remember that your child may be turned off or unmotivated by testing.
Students who are weak in academic skills may be very nervous and insecure about the testing process and may resist the efforts of their parents to help them. Parents who are frustrated with the process and with their children may only compound the problems by increasing the child’s frustration level with both school and testing.
It’s important that resistance doesn’t become a habit for your child. In order to avoid this, try to remember:


* You can’t improve test scores overnight.

* Test scores are the result of work done all year long, not just the few weeks before the test.

* Students do best on tests when they are somewhat concerned and motivated, but not so anxious that they have trouble concentrating.

* A student’s level of anxiety about a situation is usually directly related to your own concern.

* The work assigned in school should directly relate to skills tested on the end-of-the-year assessment. Therefore, students should place a high priority on doing assigned homework and schoolwork, following the instruction in class, studying for tests, and reviewing assignments.

* Students who do well in their daily work usually do well in standardized testing.

* Some students who do well in daily work don’t do well in standardized testing. This often frustrates parents and students alike. These students may very well be helped by the suggestions found in this book.

Tests are different from daily assignments in that they present different skills on the same page. Skills are intermixed on the page and students are expected to shift from skill to skill without warning. In class, students may receive practice on one or a few skills at a time. It’s much harder to take a test when items of different kinds are mixed on the same page.
It’s important to prepare your child to consider that he will encounter some items on standardized tests that he’s never seen before and hasn’t been taught. This practice of providing some "ceiling" or upper limit for the test actually allows the test to measure the limits of a child’s knowledge. While some students may see this as a frustrating part of the test, all tests of this nature have some items almost no one gets right. It’s a predictable part of the process. Students who realize that they won’t know the answers to all questions usually feel better about the testing process in general.
The Sixth Grader’s Development
Sixth graders are typically between 11 and 12 years old and at some stage of beginning adolescence. This is an exciting time of great development—physically, socially, and mentally. Parents are often frustrated with the changes they see in their adolescents, and it’s easy to understand why. In order to understand the implications these changes have for your child’s thinking skills, you need to start thinking about your child in different ways, and to work with him as a budding adult rather than as a child. That is no small task!
Let’s look at a few of the important characteristics of a sixth grader’s thinking and how they affect school and standardized testing.

Abstract Reasoning Skills
Sixth graders start relying more on their ability to use abstract reasoning skills. Someone who thinks abstractly looks beyond the information right in front of him and reasons on a wider level. Most of the time, adults rely mostly on concrete reasoning skills: We turn on a TV or start a car and we don’t think about how they work. If a machine doesn’t work when we try to turn it on, we may try a second time, but eventually we call a repairperson rather than try to figure it out ourselves. When we think abstractly, we think about the way the machine works and make guesses about how to repair it. We develop explanations for the problem.
Sixth graders are just beginning to develop this abstract ability to take themselves away from the specifics of a situation and guess what the situation means. Sixth-grade teachers can often capture the attention of their students by asking questions like:
"What does this mean?"
"How does this work?"
"How can this be done?"
The ability to reason on a higher level will eventually lead sixth graders to wonder about more complicated questions that have no easy answers. Questions of a social, ethical, or religious nature may occupy some adolescents in very intense ways. They may spend hours pondering who they are, when parents and teachers may wish they would get busy with assigned work!

Creativity
Sixth graders may think very creatively and have boundless energy for composing, writing, designing, or drawing. The products may not be quite so refined as they will be in a few more years, but the sheer joy of developing and planning may be exhilarating to children this age. This creativity can lead to beautiful poetry, music, or stories that contain hints of the complex thinking adolescents are beginning to do.
What happens to creativity at home and at school? You should be aware of your child’s need to express his boundless creativity and try to find ways to channel it into learning activities. If creativity is quashed, the student may become less motivated and may begin to see school as a very boring place where no new ideas or suggestions are tolerated. Students may develop similar feelings about their parents’ help.

How You Can Help Your Child
You can help to boost your child’s motivation and provide outlets for that creativity in many ways:

* Praise your child’s writing and allow him to share it or not as he wishes.

* Listen to ideas and relate them to other information you’ve learned or discussed.

* Relate specific academic material covered in school to your child’s ideas.

* Help your child find special classes in art, music, or composition; you may need to look outside school for some classes.

* Allow your child to explore different methods of expression without expecting perfection.

* Listen to your child’s favorite music and discuss with him what he likes about it.

Need for Autonomy. Your sixth grader may begin to express opinions that are different from yours and will often question your expectations and limits. This certainly impacts school performance, since your child may decide he wants to make the decisions about what he learns and how he spends his time. Your child may be less willing to respond to schedules and structures you select.
This can make preparing for standardized tests particularly difficult. Your child may resist your efforts to improve his school performance because he sees this as his responsibility. Your child may especially dislike having you decide which topics he needs to review or practice.
For these reasons, it’s most helpful if you can avoid focusing on specific skill reviews and drills. That’s why we won’t try to teach you how to conduct educational drills with your child.
Instead, we’ll point out ways you can prepare your child for schoolwork and testing by noticing the academic nature of various activities and by encouraging students to solve problems. When you help your child learn to solve problems dealing with everyday events, he will see the need for academic skills and will be more likely to master them. Remember, when students practice in the real world, they remember the skills much better than when all practice is in textbooks.
This idea is so important that it deserves a few minutes of focus before we move on. Parents can do a number of things with their children—everything from buying and cooking food to participating in Scouts and athletics—to provide important opportunities for academic skill development. These activities are examples of the kinds of problems your child will face in the future, and offer a host of possibilities for work in math and reading. The list includes:


* shopping

* cooking

* planning a vacation

* budgeting

* repairing a toilet

* planting shrubs

* growing vegetables

* deciding which new car to buy

Your sixth grader will be more motivated to work with you on testing material if he sees it as interesting or social. Here are some tips to make these activities fun:

Go shopping. Several sixth grade students may enjoy a shopping trip. Give your child a budget and ask that he and his friends make suggestions on how to spend the money by focusing on finding the best buys on clothing.

Plan party time. Don’t just throw your child a party. Involve him! Turn it into a lesson in management and math by having your sixth grader and his friends plan the number of items needed, the food to be served, the items to be bought, and the budget for the party.

Use sports. A group of sixth graders can follow a sports team together and compare statistics as the team progresses through the season.

Go camping. If your child likes camping, have him plan what supplies are needed, shop for the items, locate appropriate recipes, and adjust the recipes for the number of people attending the trip.

Obviously, the list could go on and on. While these things may not seem like traditional "schoolwork," in fact students need to practice what they learn in a meaningful context or in some real-life situation. Your child will get the most out of any learning situation when he is doing something related to the learning, not just reading a book or participating in a discussion.
Finally, your child will learn better when he practices for small amounts at a time over several days, rather than cramming for hours the night before a test.

The Social Side of Thinking. It may not seem so, but your child’s social life does have an effect on his thinking ability. Any sixth-grade teacher will tell you that the most important thing to a child of this age is his social life. Sixth graders are starting to become extremely attached to and influenced by their peers. They’re interested in what other students their age are doing, and they are motivated by things of interest to other students and to themselves.
In some cases, students may become self-conscious about "being smart" and may not want to perform well on tests. Some sixth graders may not like to call attention to themselves as "the brain." If this is happening to your child, you’ll have to work hard to overcome this feeling. Here’s how:

* Ask teachers to offer incentives for work well done.

* Develop an incentive system for your child featuring music, free time, or time with friends.

* Develop a sense of self-confidence in your child.

* Encourage your child to invite friends over for study time.

* Plan a fun outing that involves some of the skill areas your child needs help with, and allow your child to invite a friend along.

* Check out videos that develop some of the same interests and skills, and invite friends to watch, too.

What the Tests May Ask
Tests for sixth graders are usually somewhat different from tests for younger children. They’re not just harder, but the style and format of the tests may be different as well. These differences include smaller print, the use of embedded instructions, longer time limits, larger written passages, increased abstract thinking, and more open-ended questions.

Smaller Print
Sixth graders are accustomed to smaller print in textbooks and lessons, so the smaller print on the tests shouldn’t be a problem for anyone except those with poor vision. Students should be certain to bring glasses or contacts with them to the testing session. Be sure to obtain correct lenses for your child long before testing day, so he can become used to the lenses before the testing period begins.

Longer Time Limits
Sixth graders are expected to work for longer periods of time without receiving directions or breaks. Your child may routinely work without stopping for 45 minutes or longer. Those who typically need lots of breaks to complete their work may find this aspect of testing somewhat difficult and should begin to prepare themselves for longer work periods without help. If your child has a problem with longer work periods, have him wear a wristwatch to remind him how much time is left. He can also practice working on homework for longer periods without asking for help or taking a break.

Embedded Instructions
Instructions for many tests are given at the beginning of the session. In tests for younger students, these instructions apply to the entire session until the teacher gives another set of instructions.
However, in sixth grade, tests often have new directions that the student is expected to read independently and to apply to the next set of questions. An adult won’t intervene to help him understand. If your child is used to having an adult talk him through directions, he may have trouble with this independent format.
To prepare for this, have your child practice reading directions on homework by himself before asking for help. He should also reread the directions, think them through step by step, and pick out key words. This skill is very important and is discussed in more detail.

Longer Written Passages
Your sixth grader will be expected to have a longer attention span for reading and writing. He’ll have to read several pages at a time without taking a break. With smaller print and the lack of pictures, the amount of reading may intimidate many students.
It’s important to remember that your child will be expected to review the passage to find answers. You can help your child deal with this situation by teaching him to scan the material and questions before reading, and to focus on reading one paragraph at a time.

More Questions Requiring Abstract Reasoning
Because sixth graders are better at abstract reasoning than younger students, test makers add questions requiring students to infer meanings, draw conclusions, apply data to another situation, or make predictions about what may happen in the future.

Open-Ended (Not Multiple-Choice) Questions
This is an important new development in testing and one that is becoming increasingly prevalent on newer tests. It’s hard to prepare fully for this format because it’s relatively new, but you and your child should be aware of the format and begin practicing. These kinds of questions will be encountered in real-life academic tasks (and real-life examples don’t always come in multiple-choices!).

Test-Taking Skills Your Child Needs
You can help your sixth grader improve his test-taking skills by helping him learn to follow directions, pay attention for longer periods of time, fill in an answer sheet correctly, use the information available, budget time, and develop a system of checking answers.

Following Directions
All elementary school students need to develop skills at following directions in order to improve test performance. Sixth graders need to pay particular attention to this area because it’s likely there will be some instructions embedded in the test. This means that at the beginning of a test section, the teacher will begin timing the test. After students have worked through a section of the test, they will find a new set of directions that requires them to answer questions according to a different format. This style of testing requires careful attention to the material and close reading of the new instructions.
Knowing the meaning of direction words is also important to sixth graders, because they will likely hear longer, more standardized instructions than they did at an earlier age. They will probably encounter the following direction words:
Read
Mark
Bubble-in
Calculate
Identify
Consider
Draw conclusions
Compare
Contrast

While most of these words are familiar to your child, it’s easy to imagine that he’ll need practice on some words before he can use them effectively. Whenever possible, use these words every day and explain the meanings.

Paying Attention
Sixth graders are usually able to work for long periods of time without stopping, but they may not be used to doing it very often. During school and while doing homework, your child may stop working periodically and take regular breaks. This won’t be possible during standardized tests.
Try to establish periods of time during which your child must work without interruption. Find a place without distractions and set a reasonable time period (such as 30 minutes) for your child to work. Set a timer to go off after the allotted period, and then have your child take a short break. As the year progresses, increase the length of the study periods to 45 or 55 minutes.
By the time standardized testing arrives, your child should be used to working for up to an hour without a break, and won’t be surprised or intimidated by the prospect of a long work period.

Using an Answer Sheet
While most sixth graders have encountered answer sheets before, many students still have trouble filling in circles or bubbles. Answer sheets are usually scored by computer, so it’s important that all bubbles be filled in correctly and that no stray marks appear on the paper. Most important, your child needs to mark the answer in the correct spot. It’s very easy to lose your place on an answer sheet, marking two answers on one line or skipping a line. When this happens, your child will miss most of the questions following the one in which he lost his place. Make sure your child understands the following tips:

* Fill in the bubble completely.

* Don’t make stray marks on the page.

* Stay on the correct line.

* Use a ruler if necessary to keep on the correct line.

* Check periodically to make sure you’re marking the line that goes with the question you’re answering.

Using Available Information
Some questions will contain longer explanations of material that the student is expected to read. Students will be expected to use the information in the question efficiently in order to answer the question.
You can help your child get ready to handle this type of question by leaving your child notes about chores for the day and praising him for following directions. When you write such notes, use direction words and explain anything your child doesn’t understand.
Here’s an example:

Today I need you to gather your clothes together and put them in the laundry basket. After you’ve finished this, collect all the recyclables and sort them into categories. Please write me a note to let me know how full the containers are so we can plan a trip to the recycling station. Then replace your winter clothes with your spring ones and stack the winter ones in a box.

It may be difficult to get your child to follow all of these directions, but you can set the stage and hope for the best! At least you will know you’re teaching the right direction words, even if the chores don’t get done.

Budgeting Time
Sixth graders are often poor judges of time and may use too much time on one question while not leaving enough time for the others. One important skill your child should develop is the ability to guess elapsed time and to budget the time he has to accomplish something. You can help your child do this by:

* discussing time needed for daily activities, like driving to school;

* buying your child a watch so he can keep track of the time as he works;

* asking your child to estimate how much time it will take to do something and then comparing his guess to the actual time elapsed;

* using a kitchen timer to time homework periods.

Checking Responses
Developing a system for checking responses is a helpful strategy for students who are taking standardized tests. Often students find they have omitted items, not filled in blanks completely, moved to an incorrect line to bubble-in answers, or just marked the wrong answer.
Students won’t usually have time to recheck the entire test, but this shouldn’t be necessary. There is usually enough time, however, to make sure they have answered all the questions, and to recheck answers they weren’t sure about.
Here’s a good strategy for checking work on a test:

* Glance over the answer sheet to make sure there is an answer for each item.

* Check that no item has two answers.

* Be sure that when you finished the test, you were on the right number for the question you answered.

* Make sure you have left no stray marks on the answer sheet.

* If you’re allowed to use scratch paper, make a list of questions you weren’t sure about. If scratch paper is forbidden but you can mark on the test, place a small check in the margin next to the items you’re not sure about. If you can’t do either of these, put a small pencil mark on the answer sheet next to the items you weren’t sure about. Come back to these questions at the end of the test if you still have time.

With these observations and strategies, you are ready to begin to look at the test topics themselves and to think about ways you and your child can work on the areas that will be included on standardized tests.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Test-Taking Basics.

Chapter 2: Vocabulary.

Chapter 3: Reading Comprehension.

Chapter 4: Language Mechanics.

Chapter 5: Language Expression.

Chapter 6: Spelling and Study Skills.

Chapter 7: Math Concepts.

Chapter 8: Math Computation.

Chapter 9: Math Applications.

Sample Practice Test.

Student Answer Sheet.

Appendices.

Glossary.

Answer Key.
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