Standardized Test Prep and the Homeschool Family

Standardized Test Prep Homeschool

Standardized Tests and the homeschool family. Can we turn something stressful into something positive?

Standardized tests…few other things can drum up such visceral reactions! This post is not designed to enter the standardized test debates. There are other places and times for those important discussions.

My state’s homeschool laws require annual standardized testing. It is important to me that, insofar as it depends on me, these not become a source of anxiety or stress for my children. Is there a way we could not merely “suffer through” the requirement, and instead use it to our advantage?

Related: How to Choose a Standardized Achievement Test for Your Homeschool

Standardized Test for Homeschool

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Standardized tests have no intrinsic value for my particular family. I do not need a test to tell me that one kid needs more practice with their spelling, one kid is flying through math at warp speed, and one kid is a delayed reader. As a homeschool mom, I’m with them all day, every day. I know their strengths and weaknesses intimately (both those measured by tests and those that aren’t).

That being said, I choose to use the annual, state-mandated, standardized tests as an opportunity to set my children up for future success, rather than throwing my children at them unprepared since they don’t seem to serve any academic or educational purpose in our current life.

Standardized Test Prep for Homeschool

Regardless of whether or not you think that test-taking is valuable, the reality is that many if not most of our college-bound children will eventually be faced with standardized tests (SAT, ACT, CLT, etc). My goal is to have my children develop a view of themselves as “good test takers.” So much of the trauma of testing comes from the pressure, anxiety, and stress that develops over the years.

(Note: all that follows is based on my own and my family’s experience with test taking. I am not qualified to speak to special considerations that are necessary and helpful in equipping children with various learning challenges. Please know that there are options for you! Rethinking School is a recent book I read that included many resources that may be useful to your family.)

Teaching How to Test, not To the Test

In our ordinary homeschool life we do not incorporate tests in the early elementary years at all. As the children get older there are math tests and Latin quizzes along the way, but testing is not a part of their normal routine. Even the tests we actually use look nothing at all like standardized tests! I do not want the first time they see a test, with its sensory overload of bubbles and oddly-phrased questions, to be on test day. That seems like it would cause anyone to freeze up!

While I have no desire to form my teaching or curriculum around what is on the end of year test, I do want my children to feel confident that they know what to do when they get there. Having some familiarity with the form of the test gives my children confidence for test day.

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Here are some of the ways I prepare my children for standardized test day:

  • The first year they have to test, I teach them how to fill in a bubble. This is kind of a silly and otherwise useless skill, but I have found that it helps to practice ahead of time and not for the first time on test day.
  • I remind them that they can’t provide commentary on the questions, talk with the other students/proctor, or go to the bathroom whenever they want. This is completely opposite from their ordinary homeschool life and comes as a big shock the first year or two!
  • I teach them that every test is designed to have some really easy questions, some medium questions, and some questions that are really hard. They shouldn’t be concerned if there is a question to which they don’t know the answer; that is just the test doing its job. It is totally ok to skip a question! Their normal context dictates that when they don’t understand something, we stop and figure it out. I prepare them and have them practice moving on and not fretting about unknown answers.
  • Tests are testing the teacher (Mom). The people who wrote the tests do not have any idea what we studied this year, so standardized tests have nothing to do with my students (children) and their academic success for the year. (If you have a child that gets worried about this, I’ve found that having them skim through the What Your [ ] Grader Needs to Know book for their grade level can ease their concerns.)
  • I tell them to read ALL the answers and choose the best one.
  • For the older children, I teach them to skip questions that are hard and come back to them later if there is time. I teach them how to make “educated guesses” by eliminating 1 or 2 answers. Getting a “good score” at these grade levels means absolutely nothing. However, this is a skill they can practice now to help them when they face college entrance exams.
  • The first year they will face a timed test, we do a practice run or two so they get used to gauging their time (again, not something they have to deal with in their normal life, and that clock can be so stressful if you aren’t prepared for it).
  • Our family has found value in taking a few short practice tests the first couple years of testing. We do not spend much time on this. Typically, I give them an example test that covers each of the topics they will face on test day (math computation, vocabulary, etc). Again, the types of questions they see on the test are dramatically different from what we do on a regular basis. Demystifying the test is valuable to prevent anxiety. And since we are sitting together, when they have a question or get stumped on how a question is phrased, I can offer feedback and teach them how to think through the types of questions they see. We also get to enjoy poking fun at the ridiculous nature of some of the questions.  It’s hard to be afraid of something you’ve made fun of at the kitchen table.  These are the practice test books we have used, although I want to again emphasize that I do NOT have the kids do all the tests in the booklet!
  • Fun snacks make everything more exciting! This is something my kids really look forward to each year. We pack special snack bags to enjoy on test day. My dad always made my brother and me an “apple puzzle,” and it became a test day staple. He even made me one when I took the SAT! Look for ways to make testing an adventurous tradition in your own family, instead of something to dread! {Instructions for making an apple puzzle are at the bottom of this post!}
Standardized Testing with Peace

How to talk to your children about standardized tests

I think one of the key elements of creating a peaceful environment about testing is not assuming your children will have test-anxiety. Maybe you remember freezing up on test days. Maybe your child in the past froze up or got scared. Don’t perpetuate that by saying things like, “Are you nervous?” or “Does testing make you anxious?” or “Well, I was always a bad test-taker, too!” Here are some questions that might be more helpful:

  • Instead of asking “are you nervous?” the morning of the test, you could ask a more open-ended question like, “how do you feel today?”. Don’t assume there will be a negative emotion. Even if there is a negative emotion expressed, it may not be the best time to try to “fix it.” Simply reflecting back, “It sounds like you are really upset about the test today” (or mad, sad, scared, etc), may be the most sympathetic thing you can do in that moment.
  • Instead of “did the test go well” or “did you do a good job on the test” you could ask simply, “how did the test go,” “what was your favorite part of the test today,” or even “was there anything that surprised you about the day?”. This way the focus is not on some misguided pressure to “do well,” but on the child’s thoughts and feelings.
How to ease test day anxiety

Do NOT quiz them the day or even week of the test. Don’t drill them on their math facts in the car. Don’t go over spelling rules. This only serves to ratchet up tension levels, not actually help their recall.

Standardized Tests do not define us, our homeschool, or our children

Children need a Chill Mom when it comes to testing. You may feel all sorts of pressure and anxiety about your kids and their tests. But it is so critical that we not communicate those to our children. They need to have confidence that we really mean it when we say “this test doesn’t matter to me.”

If deep in your heart the test actually does matter to you, if you find yourself really stressed, take some time to pray and journal, and figure out what your root fear is. Do you worry about what other people will think? Do you worry that this is somehow a grade on your parenting or homeschool?

We do not want our children to find their identity in their performance on a test. But, Mama and Papa, don’t put your hope of identity in your children’s performance, either. Whenever we put our hope in anything within ourselves or another person, fear and anxiety is sure to follow. Even when it comes to testing, we rest upon a life we did not live!

I hope this has provided some helpful ideas for preparing for standardized tests in your homeschool family, or maybe even helpful tips for discussing tests with your traditionally-educated child!  I would love to hear your thoughts.  What were your experiences like with testing growing up?  Are there things that are working well now for your family, or maybe not so well?

Share your testing struggles or successes in the comments below. And don’t forget to sign up for my email list for subscriber exclusives!

Which Standardized or Cognitive Test is Right for Your Family?

These articles from Debbie Thompson at Triangle Education Assessments can help you decide which test is right for your individual needs:

How to Make an Apple Puzzle

  1. Start with a mostly symmetrical apple for best results
  2. Cut halfway down thru the top of the apple
  3. Cut halfway down thru the bottom of the apple at a perpendicular angle to the original cut
  4. Carefully cut halfway thru the apple’s side connecting 2 of the cut end points on one side of the apple
  5. Carefully cut halfway thru connecting the remaining 2 cut end points on the other side of the apple (these final cuts are on a 3rd perpendicular plane, if that helps make it clearer).
  6. Enjoy your apple puzzle! They are good for anytime, or as special treats for adventures like Test Day
Standardized Test with Peace
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