Test Taking Strategies: A Guide to Surviving the STAAR Test

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, commonly referred to as STAAR, are a series of state-mandated standardized tests used in Texas public primary and secondary schools to assess a student's achievements and knowledge learned in the grade level. Texas public school students in grades 3 through 8, and in high school, must take the test.

The STAAR test is designed to evaluate student mastery of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills learning standards (TEKS). These standards define what students should learn in each grade. For younger students, these tests evaluate students in the areas of reading, math, and writing. Beginning in fifth grade, students are also tested in science and social studies, as well.

From the Texas Association of School Boards, “In high school, students take end-of-course STAAR exams in five high school subjects: Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II, and U.S. History. Students must pass the five tests to graduate, but students’ performance on the end-of-course exams will not be used to determine class rank.

Some districts may opt to administer two additional end-of-course tests: Algebra II and English III.”


Alleviating Test-taking Anxiety

Studies show that anxiety about standardized testing can have a profound impact on student performance. Many students who suffer from test-taking anxiety do not perform well on these tests and that can be devastating to students whose self-worth is tied into academic performance. In the first year of STAAR administration, the state of Texas mandated that test results accounted for 15% of a student’s class grade. The Texas legislature removed that requirement in 2013.


Test-taking Strategies - Back to Basics

Foundational test-taking strategies are typically learned in primary grades and evolve throughout a student’s academic career. While the complexity of test questions and content will certainly vary from year to year, knowing how to take a test well and to use the tools you have at your disposal should remain unchanged. Those tools, or strategies, can seem extraordinarily basic:

●      Be slick and predict

Think of the answer before you look at the options available to you. This will increase your confidence to see that your predicted answer is a choice, or it could give you pause if your predicted answer is not an option.

●      Slash the trash

When you are looking at your answer options, cross out any answers that you know for certain are incorrect. This will provide you with an opportunity to narrow your focus to possible answers only.

●      Plug it in

When you are testing answers for a fill-in-the-blank question, plug each choice in to see if it fits and makes sense. Once you think you have determined which option is correct, check it one last time!

●      Number the paragraphs

When you are reading a passage or a story, number the paragraphs or stanzas as you read. This will provide a quick reference so you can go back and provide supporting evidence of where you found answers. This also makes it easier to find information for subsequent questions pertaining to the same text.

●      Underline it and prove it

When the answer to your question is in the story, underline the sentence that supports your reasoning.

●      50/50

Occasionally, selecting the best answer for a test means making your best guess. If you’ve narrowed down your choices to 2, you’ll have a 50/50 chance of picking the right answer. (Note: this strategy should only be used on tests in which not answering a question carries a penalty. There are circumstances in which simply leaving a test question unanswered is the best strategy.)

●      In your head or in the story?

As you prepare to tackle questions related to text, ask yourself “is this a thinking question, or is the answer directly in the text?”


Other Helpful Hints

1.     Always read selections and questions at least twice. The first time you read through should be to figure out the words and the second read-through should be for understanding.

2.     Draw a circle around any words that you don’t know. Read the preceding sentence and the following sentence to see if you can figure it out.

3.     Put a mark by an answer that you are unsure about. If time permits, revisit the question and look at it with a fresh perspective and make any changes necessary.

4.     Take a short break while you are working. If your test setting restricts movement, take a couple of deep breaths and try to allow your body and brain to relax.

5.     Always check your work! It is critically important that you review your answers before turning your test in or pressing ‘SUBMIT’. This will help to prevent any careless errors or missed questions.

6.     Stay focused and clear-headed.


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