Test Prep and Lesson Plans

I know that test prep is a hot (even controversial) topic in the world of education.  Some schools of thought believe that there should never be any  test prep in the classroom, and then others that base all instruction on test prep.  I am neither of those.  I believe in teaching all year long using a variety of instructional practices and sprinkling in small amounts of test prep throughout the year.

As a K-12 student, I have no experience with high stakes testing, because the standardized tests we took didn’t count for anything.  However, I started teaching in 2003, so I’ve never taught without high stakes testing.  My first year teaching I was totally clueless about testing and test prep. {Remember, I’d never taken one or given one.}  I didn’t understand why everyone was so stressed out over a test.  It didn’t take me long to get it.  I felt like my worth as a teacher was completely based on the test scores of my students.  It didn’t matter how much they’d grown during the year or how their attitudes and behaviors had improved.  What mattered was their CRCT score.  Since then, I’ve struggled to find my place in the testing craziness.  Regardless of my opinion on high stakes test, I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.  In fact, many of us are under more pressure than ever to have high test scores, since our evaluations and even salaries depend on it.

It took me several years to find a test prep balance that works for me in my classroom.  I like to weave it in to my instruction all year long, rather than cramming in test prep toward the spring.  I think that the small doses of test prep help students retain information and strategies and prevent them from becoming overstressed as the actual test nears.

One thing that was a real eye opener for me was when I changed my weekly math assessment from an open ended format to a multiple choice format.  It was bad.  I couldn’t believe how much my students’ scores dropped from one week to another.  The content was exactly the same.  The only difference was the format of the test.  With a little experimentation, I realized that it wasn’t the content that gave my students trouble.  Instead, it was because my students had no idea how to take a multiple choice test. This makes sense, because third grade is our students’ first experience with standardized testing, so they really don’t have any practice with this type of test.  I immediately began searching for a spiral review that was written in a test prep format, and I looked and looked and came up empty.  I knew that I really wanted to give my students a consistent practice of multiple skills, so I got to work on my Common Core Math Weekly Practice assessments.

I knew that I wanted to be able to start using these assessments at the very beginning of the year and continue using the same style of assessments all year long, so I created six different versions that all increase with difficulty and range of questions as the year progresses.  In the packet, there is a total of 30 multiple choice math assessments that are a spiral review of almost all of the math Common Core Standards. I’ve written questions that will require my students to really think about what is being asked and analyzed common error patterns to write all of the possible answer choices.


I’ve been using these assessments with my third graders for five weeks now, and I’m already seeing a HUGE improvement in their scores. I give this assessment in lieu of my Number of the Day morning work on Fridays. My students complete the assessment independently during their morning work time, and I TRY to grade them during my planning, which is first thing in the morning. Then, as a whole group, I pass the graded assessments out, and we go over the problems together.  I let anyone who made a 100 read or work on one of our Early Finisher task card activities while everyone else is going over the math. This seems to be a huge incentive for my students!

I also managed to have my visual lesson plans ready for the third straight week!  Wow!

For homework, I’m going to have my students complete the 6 facts booklet.  I’ll give it to them on Monday, and let them work on it all week long.



  1. says

    It's in my cart NOW! Here's hoping you have some time to come up with ELA/Reading multiple choice. Thank you for such helpful resources!

    Diane Mikle (under my husband's google account!)

  2. says

    These are beautiful! I have many of the same feelings you do in regards to test prep but you are right on- it is not going anywhere! As a first grade teacher, I would love another grade level when you have a minute :)

  3. says

    I am curious about your centers. I am a first year teacher and I really am not liking centers right now. It looks like you have 12 for math? How do you rotate kids through them? I've changed to a one center a day instead of the kids doing three centers a day, but they are a lot to keep up with!

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