How to Use a “Test Prep” Book: The pre and post test model

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With the testing season approaching, test preparation seems to be in full swing. While I am not a proponent of test preparation books…or test prep for that matter, I do appreciate that many families and teachers take special measures to prepare students before the big day(s). That is why I want to share a special way to use test preparation materials to ensure maximal growth.

The Problem With Test Prep Books: Where to start?! There are a ton of issues with test preparation. Firstly, test prep books should not be used to TEACH new material, but rather to REVIEW and REINFORCE material that has already been covered. That being said, each student has different strengths and weaknesses so naturally each student will benefit from review of different topics. It can be challenging for both teachers and families to know where to begin in the book, and what to cut out. Test prep books cover a lot of material and if you start using them a month or two before the test, it can be hard to fit in all of the units. The model I am about to propose can act as a solution in this situation.

Last year I worked at a school that used the “pre-post test” model to assess student growth throughout the year. In this model a teacher gives the students an assessment before teaching each unit. Scores on the pre-test can guide instruction by letting the teacher know where to start in the curriculum to meet the needs of the class. After the unit of study is complete, students are given the same exact assessment, which is now referred to as the post-test. This gives an accurate measure of growth.

I have been using this model with test-preparation materials lately and it seems to be having a positive effect on my students so I thought I would share about it today. What I love about this model is that it is simple to use at home…so if you feel like your child isn’t getting what they need in school, you can work with your child at home to support their needs.

The “Pre-Post Test” Model: The very first step is choosing a test-prep book. At the top of the page, I have shared links to some test-prep books that I have found useful over the years, although again, I stress that I am not a fan of test-preparation through test prep books. I believe that the true preparation comes with strong teaching. That being said, I am not naive to the fact that families and teachers are using these materials with students. The process that you will find below will NOT work with books that include only practice tests. This process works with books that offer instruction,  sample problems, practice questions and unit tests.

  1. Once you have decided on a test-prep book, look through the table of contents with your child. Work with your child to rate each of the units. I recommend using a 1-3 rating system where 1 means “I really get it!” and 3 means “I really struggle!”
  2. Once your child has rated the units, use your knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to choose a starting point. It should be one of the units that your child rated as an area of struggle.
  3. Photocopy the practice test at the end of the unit.
  4. Have your child take the practice test (this is the post-test). Grade it. If your child scores very high, try a different one. You don’t want to spend too much time reviewing what your child already knows, especially since you may not have time to go through the whole book before testing day. If your child scores low or mediocre, it is probably a good starting place.
  5. Work with your child to read through the lessons, sample problems and instructional materials. Most students cannot do this alone. Reading aloud usually helps.
  6. When you and your child have worked through the unit of study (perhaps 2-5 days depending on the unit and test book), have your child re-take the test as a post-test.
  7. Grade the post-test and compare the pre-post test scores. If your child scores higher, great! If your child’s scores are not where you would like them to be, the work around that unit is not over…read below!
Isn’t this concept simple? Why waste time teaching someone what they already know? Instead, use the pre-post test model to assess where to start, what to teach, and to measure growth after the material has been taught!

Special Note: Just because a student completes a unit of study in a test book, doesn’t mean they are prepared for the test. If a child still does not have mastery over the topic, you will want to find other practice problems, worksheets, etc. to support his/her learning. If you need help finding resources, please refer to these two previous articles or feel free to submit a question. Have resources or experiences that you think might be helpful to EdGeeks readers? Share by leaving a comment!

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