8 Test Prep Strategies that Work!

8 Test Prep Strategies that Work!

Life would be great if I could spend every day letting my students engage with phenomena and explore science concepts – aside from the relationships that build with students, it’s my favorite part of teaching. I love watching middle schoolers get curious, ask questions, and figure things out. I love the lightbulb moments. I bet we all do. But my administrators (and the parents in my District) still expect me to give traditional assessments and to prepare my students for standardized assessments in the spring. Middle school science teachers can help their students prepare for tests using best practices. Here are my top 8 test prep strategies that work – and don’t squash curiosity and still engage kids.


1. Be positive.

If you tell kids they’re going to fail a test, then they will fail a test. I’m sure you’re not actually saying the words “You’re going to fail,” but we communicate in many ways. Our own personal anxiety over our students’ performance is detectable by tone of voice, gestures, distractibility, and attitude. If I’m concerned over my students’ success on an assessment, they will know it. A little anxiety is good –  students being concerned for their graded boosts studying – but too much is detrimental. “Of course you can do this,” is the atmosphere we want to create. “This is your time to shine!” I tell my students when they walk in. “It’s your moment of glory!” Encouraging post-its on their desks or repeating affirmations before an assessment can help built this positive atmosphere on a daily basis.

2. Create a growth mindset.

Students will perform better when they think they can perform better. I know – easier said than done. But there is an abundance of resources available to help you with this. The best tools I know of to build that grit that we all know is so important are escape rooms. Not only are they super engaging, but they also provide intermittent intrinsic rewards as students solve smaller puzzles building their “I can” attitude. Here’s a free escape room for you to try out.

3. Chunk it

Each of my large units is broken up into 5-6 chunks, and each chunk takes about a week to cover. For each chunk I use the 5 Es to engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate the content. For example, a typical “chunk” might include a phenomenon with some time for students to explore independently and ask questions followed by a more traditional teacher led lesson with vocabulary and notes. I try to include a lab experiment or an activity for each chunk, and then I review the chunk of material and assign an assessment on that chunk of material.  The assessment might be a lab report or a formative quiz or a poster or any number of different was students can demonstrate mastery.

At the end of the 5-6 weeks, there is a summative assessment of the more traditional style. If you review in chunks and assess in chunks, the larger summative assessment is more manageable for students.

4. Spiralize it

A spiral curriculum is one in which students are exposed to the same content at a higher level after a period of time. For example, we might teach what cells are in first grade, what a nucleus is in third grade, the parts of a cell in fifth grade, and by seventh grade we’re ready for more complicated things like photosynthesis and mitosis. The benefit of a spiral curriculum is that students are learning by building on prior knowledge. Over the course of your entire year’s worth of science curriculum, look for ideas that overlap.

For example, decomposition and the formation of organic matter in the development of soil is a topic I talk about in my first unit, but I also revisit decomposition and decomposers in the food chain unit later in the year.

Take advantage of opportunities like that to review and reinforce what your students have already mastered earlier in the year. This helps students build connections which helps them understand and retain information better.

5. Remediate it.

Using your formative assessments, identify students who are not keeping up and then give them extra attention. This doesn’t have to be after school or a special arrangement. Stand closer to them during direct instruction or independent work. Ask them easy softball questions to build their confidence. Identify what piece of the puzzle they’re missing and fix it for them.

6. Practice it.

If your assessment is multiple choice, then you should be practicing multiple choice questions with your students. Show them how to analyze questions and eliminate choices. If your assessment is short answer format, then you should  be practicing short answer questions. Model using data to support their statement. Practice on questions with multiple parts and practice answer all of the parts of the question.

7. Use fun review activities.

My kids love games – honestly, what kid doesn’t (or what adult doesn’t)? So I have a ton of games for each unit we cover. Here are my favorite games to use for review:

2 player digital racing games – Man, these are new and steamy hot! My kids love them and beg for more. If you haven’t tried them, here’s a free one for you!

Quizlet Live – Too much fun. Students work cooperatively in small groups competing against the rest of the class. They’ll forget they’re learning.

Blooket – If you know, you know. This is the one I catch them playing when they’re supposed to be doing something else.

Kahoot – An oldie but a goodie. Never goes out of style. The music makes them dance.

Gimkit – Paid product only, but kids love the animations.

Quiz games – Games like Charades, Taboo, Jeopardy and Hollywood Squares are great because kids are already familiar with the rules.

File Folder Games – Kids love making these and playing these. Try it, you’ll like it.

I have Who has – I play this with a timer and record how long it takes each class to complete one round. I write each class’s time on the board and leave it there for every other class to see. They love being the class with the best record. If you’ve never played, here’s a free I have Who has template for you!

Scoot Lay task cards around the room or hang them on the walls. Students travel from one card to another, recording their answers to each task card on a recording sheet. Sometimes I let students move to the next card at their own pace. Other times, I play music and they move when the music stops. I also might set a timer to let them know when to move.


8. Use fun independent practice activities.

When you’re not reviewing with the whole class, offer students fun ways to review and practice on their own. Here are some examples:

Boom cards – These digital task cards are super simple to create and free to use, although there is a paid membership that improves the data available to teachers. If you’ve never tried Boom cards, here’s a free deck for you. Use my referral link to sign up for Boom cards and save 10%!

Magic Pictures – When students get the answers correct, parts of a picture are revealed. Instant feedback helps students build mastery and take ownership of their own learning. If you’ve never tried one, here’s a free one for you!

Quizziz – Provides instant feedback to students on how well they’re preparing for an assessment. Once you create a quizziz for your students, you’ll be able to see how often they’ve played and how they scored so you get some formative feedback as well.


You’ve got this

In summary, what’s the key to successful test prep? Preparation.


Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

Science teacherpreneur

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: