Tag: test taking skills

Standardized Testing: Iowa Tests of Basic Skills

Standardized Testing: Iowa Tests of Basic Skills

My love of a bargain resulted in our standardized testing taking a different path this year. In Virginia, homeschooled students must provide proof of progress each year to their local school district. The “proof” can be either satisfactory performance on a standardized test or an 

Our Homeschool Standardized Testing Experience This Year

Our Homeschool Standardized Testing Experience This Year

I wanted to share a little about our homeschool standardized testing experience this year.  While some homeschoolers ideologically oppose standardized testing, many homeschoolers are in the same boat as public school teachers.  We may not feel standardized tests are the best way to assess the 

Homeschooling Insights: Standardized Testing

Homeschooling Insights: Standardized Testing

My child answers this one with "boring."

Here in Virginia, homeschooled students must provide evidence of adequate progress to their local school district each year. Proof is accepted in one of two forms: an adequate score on a national standardized test (such as the California Achievement Test) or evaluation by a Master’s degree level education professional. Adequate progress reports must be filed as early as age 6.

Last year was the first year we had to provide proof of adequate progress and it was quite a nerve-wracking experience for both me and my daughter. My husband and I determined that we wanted to go the standardized testing route. We like to know where our daughter stands with regard to the public school system’s standards in case she ever needs to or wants to go to public school. Also, since standardized testing skills were essential to both of our careers in some way, we want our daughter to start learning how to take standardized tests.

I wasn’t necessarily concerned with asking my daughter to take the assessment. I knew she knew enough to at least meet the minimal passing standards. What concerned me most were all the logistics involved in the assessment.

Can a 6 year old accurately color in the correct circle to select from a range of answers?
Can a 6 year old answer fast enough to meet the timing requirements of a standardized exam?
Can a 6 year old sit still long enough to take an exam that lasts several hours over several days?

I was really nervous about all of this. I ordered the test preparation booklet for my daughter (yes, they do have test preparation booklets for the first grade) and we worked through numerous examples.

On many occasions I expressed my test anxiety to my husband. He calmly replied,

“Of course she will do it. It’s not that hard.”

This relaxed sentiment was echoed by most homeschoolers who use the testing option. Those who are prone to more test anxiety likely use the professional evaluator option instead.

Right up until one week before the exam, I wasn’t sure whether my daughter would have to color in her answer on a separate sheet of paper (which would provide all kinds of opportunities to misrecord the answers) or in the booklet itself. To my great relief, the testing provider indicated that at this age level the answers are marked by the student right in the book.

In case you are wondering, the test itself is the 1988 version of the California Achievement Test that we ordered through a test provider for the homeschool market. For a fee of $25, they mail you the test, you administer it at home following the instructions provided and mail it back to the provider for scoring. Results are generally provided a few days to a week later.

We administered the exam at home over two days. One day was for English/language arts questions and the second day for mathematics. For the timed portions of the English section, about 1 minute was allotted per question to read the question and mark the correct answer. The Mathematics section was a little trickier for us. Some of the questions had to be answered in just 49 seconds in order to finish on time.

My daughter sped through the English portion–finishing each timed section usually in just a few minutes and got almost every question correct. The math portion was not as successful and she was always rushing to finish right up to the last minute. While my daughter is quite good at math calculations, she is not so good at recalling them with speed. Recently I was reading some teacher material in the math curriculum we are using and it helpfully explained:

“[S]ome students who are very good at math concepts have difficulty memorizing math facts. Math comprehension and memorization skills are not related. However, speed and accuracy with math facts is useful.”

–Singapore Math, from the Primary 1B Mathematics Standards Edition Home Instructor’s Guide

In the end, my daughter’s score on the standardized exam was more than sufficient to meet the minimum passing standards for homeschooled students. We have more confidence now going into standardized exams with that difficult first year now under our belt. Below, a few tips to pass along.


Spectrum Test Preparation Books at amazon.com.
1. Preparation Books. Obviously, you need to be familiar with the material on the examination in order to score well. There are test preparation booklets for each grade that simulate the actual exam fairly well. There is always some detail left out of the preparation books (in our case, the fact that there would be no separate answer sheets required and the answer could be marked in the book). These books are inexpensive and available in many places. We found them at our local Office Depot store as well. It generally takes a few months to get a small child through the book so plan to start them at least 2-3 months before you take the test.

2. Curriculum Enhancement. One reason some homeschooling families object to standardized testing is because it then dictates what you have to teach each year. We have found the Daily Review series of books very useful as they prepare your child for the examination without being totally intrusive with regard to the curriculum. These books ask 5 questions each day related to the subjects on the examination. Daily Language Review, for example, will ask questions related to grammar, spelling, rhyming words, etc. that are very helpful for the English portion of the examination. The questions are random each day so your child is constantly practicing different skills. This year, we are trying Daily Language Review and Daily Math Practice.

Daily Language Review series of books at amazon.com.
Daily Math Practice series of books at amazon.com.

3. Test taking strategy skills. We learned the hard way that the instructions they give you in the actual exam and the preparation books are not quite enough to give your child test taking strategy skills. Our daughter was in the middle of one of her mathematics examination sections when she encountered a question she couldn’t answer. She sat there and sat there stuck on that one question until the time ran out. Since we weren’t allowed to tell her to move on during the test, we had to let that section go. Before the next section, however, we gave her the following advice:

1. First, go through and answer all of the easy questions. Often there is a mixture of hard and easy questions on the exam. Don’t spend all your time answering a hard question when there could be a really easy question right after it.
2. Next, go back and answer the harder questions. If you really don’t know the answer, try to rule out some answers that are obviously wrong and guess from the remaining answers.
3. If you get down to one minute remaining and you haven’t answered all the questions, randomly guess on the remaining questions before the time runs out. (Depending on how your test is scored, you may or may not want to issue this instruction.)

4. Parental/Teacher Preparation.
Even with hours or months of test preparation, things can go wrong on the actual testing day. With small children, it can be the slightest change that upsets them. We found, for example, that if the question on the test was asked with just a few words different from what my daughter was used to seeing, she sometimes would get the question wrong. Try to minimize the differences you can control (for example, use the same pencil, scratch paper, chair or lighting that you used in your practices) to help your child focus. Relax as much as possible and try to encourage your student to do the same.

Have a tip on standardized testing? Please share in the comments.