Tests are one method for a teacher to gauge what her students know (and need to know), but tests aren't just for the teachers. By taking tests, children learn solid study skills, learn from errors, and learn how to handle the unknown (like pop quizzes) in an academic setting. Through practice and preparation, children will feel equipped and ready to handle tests—without feeling the need to cheat. They will also be less afraid of failure or mistakes because they'll rely on their own abilities and put in their best efforts. Try these test-taking strategies for kids to smooth the transition between learning and recall, schoolwork and test day. Soon enough, your child will become a master of test taking.
Teachers often offer a study guide for the test, outlining the format and the featured information. If you haven't received a study guide through your child or in an email, visit or call the teacher. Ask about the specific things your child should prep for, along with any weak spots in his learning. Teachers may also be able to offer targeted study techniques or worksheets, depending upon your child's needs.
Play short and relaxed 15-minute games (or "study breaks") instead of enforcing a stressful cram session. Involving siblings and grown-ups will also make learning fun instead of fretful. "At dinner, play a little game with multiplication tables," suggests Laura Laing, author of Math for Grownups, and a developer of middle and high school math curriculum. She suggests passing around an object, such as a napkin. Whoever has the napkin has to answer a math question asked by the last person. "Stumped? The object goes to the next person, who then gets a chance." Change questions based on the ability of the participants; younger sibs may need easier questions. End the game when the time feels right, or when someone achieves three correct answers.
Some concepts stick better if you integrate the senses of touch, smell, and sound in fun ways. "When there's movement involved, kids are more likely to remember facts than when they're just sitting at a table, skimming textbook information," says Ann K. Dolin, a Washington D.C.-based tutor and author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. Throw a beach ball back and forth with your child as she recites science facts or state capitals. To help with reading or spelling, let kids use icing to write words on a cake pan or shape cookie dough on a baking tray to practice letters. Or sing the multiplication tables to a popular tune to help with memorization.
Whether your child is prepping for a spelling, math, or social studies test, a set of flash cards can help her review fast facts anywhere. Make the flash cards unique, with index cards, colorful pens, magazine pictures, and stickers for different subjects. Instead of acting as the quiz leader, let your child hold the flash cards to test you. "[Kids] take ownership and [they] like to be the teacher," Dolin says. Offer a few wrong answers, she suggests, to increase the silly factor, and allow them to correct you. "It makes it fun for the kids."
Test-taking tactics don't come naturally to most kids, but teach them this one: When they're first handed a test, they should take a few minutes to scan all the directions and questions. Dolin advises coaching kids to "slash the trash." Use a pencil to cross out incorrect multiple-choice answers, so wrong answers are immediately eliminated. Teach children to skip the most difficult questions, but leave enough time to return to them later. They may think of the answers later; even if they don't, they'll still have time to make the best educated guess. Then, if there is still time left, they should review the questions and chosen answers. (For math tests, kids may want to review their calculations.)
A night or two before a big quiz, draft a practice test for your child; this will help both of you figure out what she does and doesn't know. Ask your child to write down spelling words while you dictate or put together a multiple-choice historical facts worksheet. Help your child observe which ones she misses and practice just those elements. "Writing really helps cement information in the brain," Dolin says. Younger children may need help with this task, but with practice, older kids will learn how to study independently and effectively.
Before the test, review past worksheets and help your child look for consistent mistakes. For math, help him improve any addition or subtraction issues he constantly struggles with; for science, practice terms he seems to forget regularly. Master flawed concepts with this fear-removing method: Instead of using a pencil and paper, use a whiteboard and dry-erase marker. "If the child makes a mistake, he can fix it and there's no evidence," Dolin says. "With paper and pencil, there's more frustration, because even when he gets it right, it's clear that he erased."
The night before any big test, make sure your child gets plenty of zzz's, to improve her chances for an A the next day. For optimal school performance, most 6- to 8-year-olds need 11 hours of sleep, and 9- to 10-year-olds need closer to 10 hours, says Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Sleepless in America. "Your children's cues are the best clue that they are getting enough sleep," Kurcinka says. "If you have to wake them in the morning, they're not." On test day, fuel your child's brain with a healthy breakfast. One study showed that kids who eat a healthy breakfast (about one-quarter of the day's nutritional requirements) make fewer errors on tests. Ensure that your child has a well-rounded meal with protein, carbs, and fats; for instance, a meal of eggs, bacon, fruit, and toast.
Lora Shinn never liked tests as a child, but she didn't have access to fun tips like these. When not helping her children with homework, Shinn writes for outlets like Natural Health, The Seattle Times, and National Geographic Traveler.