Making the grade

OAA test-taking skills

By Rashaun James
From the March 2010 edition
Dear Mrs. James,
The Ohio Achievement Assessments are coming up and we take testing VERY seriously in our home. For the next couple of weeks, we do OAA Boot Camp in our house. For an hour before school, we do flashcards. After homework, we do math problems, and before bed we do two to three pages out of a workbook. I really want my kids to raise their test scores, so I want to be sure the methods I'm using are correct. My daughters both said they get tired/nervous during the test. Can you provide any ideas or tips?
Sincerely,
Marva Collier
Powell

Marva, Marva, Marva.
I'm going to ask you the same question my momma would've asked me. Have you lost your everlasting mind?
Listen, you are flying off the deep end here. When I received your email, I honestly thought our lovely editor was playing a joke on me just trying to make my head pop off. I bet you thought I was going to pat you on the back for your OAA Boot Camp, didn't you? Well, not so much. Here's tip #1: Brace yourself. This is not going to be what you want to hear!
Here are my thoughts (if you're still reading): The first thing you need to do is get rid of your OAA Boot Camp. I'm sure your girls hate it and it's putting way too much pressure on them to perform. You certainly can practice problems with the girls and do your part at home, but putting too much pressure on them can create the exact opposite of the result you are aiming for.
Did you know that standardized tests were originally designed to let the state know how well the teachers were teaching their students? Now it resembles a competitive sport. The best thing you can do is reassure your children. Let them know that the test is very important and that they should do their absolute best; but it doesn't define who they are. 
If you keep going like you are, the test scores may rise, but you might have daughters with performance-based anxiety and low self-esteem. I know you mean well and I am very proud of you for making the effort. Thank you for writing in! I hope you still love me!
Love,
Mrs. James

Dear Mrs. James,
What test-taking tips can I give to my children? They are in middle school and the OAA is coming up. 
Thanks,
James Betts

Hi, James. I just love it when dads write in! You're right, the OAAs are generally held in April in Ohio, so now is the perfect time to start thinking of ways to prepare. Here are my Terrific Top Test-Taking Tips! (Say that five times really fast, why don't you?)
  • Most teachers tell students to get a good night's rest the night before the test. That's great and all, but I think that several weeks before the test kids should start going to bed earlier. Nine hours per night of sleep minimum are necessary for middle school children. So don't wait until the night before to try to get them to go to bed early.
  • If you haven't already, institute 15-25 minutes of silent reading every day for your children. It will help their reading stamina increase.
  • Go over a couple of practice questions each day. You can purchase an OAA booklet from your local bookstore or ask to borrow one from your children's teachers. Talk about their wrong answers, but also have them explain to you why their right answers are right. This has proven to be very helpful. When you're going over the test questions, tell them the importance of understanding the question. So many students get answers wrong only because they read the question wrong. For the reading exam, I always tell my students to read the questions before they read the comprehension story. This will help them remain focused while they read. 
  • Try the process of elimination. If they're not sure of the answer, it's a good idea to try to eliminate the answers that they know are definitely wrong. This narrows it down and at least allows them to make good guesses. 
  • Last but not least, tell them to answer every question. They shouldn't leave any question blank. E-mail me if you have more specific questions!
Until then,
Keep up the good work!
Love,
Mrs. James

Rashaun James is the founder and owner of Mrs. James' Learning Club. As a successful and innovative middle school teacher, one of her many professional achievements includes the OCTELA Teacher of the Year Award. She lives in Columbus with her husband.