How to Explain Standardized Testing to Your Young Student

Taking a standardized test is an entirely different beast from the regular day in and day out of your child’s school day. It can feel intimidating to some students, causing worry and anxiety. However, the great thing about standardized testing is how predictable it is! Your child can easily learn what to expect. The following concepts touch on how to explain standardized testing to your young student.

1. Question formats

The types of questions on standardized tests are fairly reliable and usually include multiple-choice, true-or-false, and short-answer questions, and sometimes, longer essays. Depending on the test, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with it first by asking your child’s teacher about its details. Talk your child through different types of questions, especially ones he hasn’t experienced before on quizzes or tests in his regular schoolwork. Tell your child to read the directions and questions carefully, identifying keywords that will tell him what to look for in an answer or a reading passage. Students should also read all the answer choices before choosing what they believe is the correct one, in case there’s an answer choice later in the list that ends up working slightly better.

2. Time limits

Discuss with your child how timing works for standardized tests; they often are timed by subject and/or section. While the teacher or proctor will more than likely keep time on the blackboard (or if the test is electronic, there will likely be a timekeeper on the computer), students will have to understand how to pace themselves. Talk to your child about how to use her time effectively and wisely, perhaps by answering the easier questions first and coming back to the harder ones later. This will prevent her from wasting a chunk of time on a tougher question that she could be using answering simpler ones. Your child can always go back later to questions that she skipped and make an educated guess if needed. If the test has essay questions, talk with your child about planning her writing in the form of bullet points or a quick outline before beginning to actually write the essay.

3. Changes in schedule

You should receive information from your child’s teacher or principal about the change in schedule for the testing week(s). Discuss this with your child so he knows what to expect. You might also want to figure out whether your child will have any homework due on top of this (it will likely be a light load, but are there any reading assignments or long-term projects your child should still be working on?). Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before and eats a healthy breakfast the morning of the test.

4. Test prep

The standardized test is likely to align with your child’s regular curriculum somewhat, but not completely. If the test is district-wide, ask your child’s teacher how students will be prepared for the test, or ask for test prep ideas that your child can work through at home. Decide what will make you and your child feel comfortable and prepared for the test. Moreover, some standardized-test companies provide practice tests, which are great resources to help your child become familiar with how the test-taking experience will actually feel.

5. Understanding results

Test results can often seem mysterious and difficult to decode. The positive is they often don’t have any impact on your child’s subject grades. Your child’s teacher or principal can help you interpret your child’s scores, as well as what you can take away from them (perhaps the score report will indicate your child’s strengths and weaknesses, for instance). Discuss with your child the point system and what the percentiles mean, as well.

Standardized testing doesn’t have to be scary for you or your child. Familiarize yourself with the test format itself and ask around if you have questions, consulting with teachers and fellow parents. All of this will help your child get used to this system early on, before encountering it several more times in her school career. 

Lisa Low

Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.