Promoting Test Readiness

Taking district tests is one of many academic tasks students are asked to do in school. Most of the common-sense approaches to helping students do well in school apply to testing situations as well. Preparing your child for district tests begins with making sure they get regular and adequate rest, exercise, and a healthy diet. A good night’s sleep prior to testing increases your child’s ability to focus and to maintain attention on the test items and prompts. A wholesome breakfast is good too, but it should be one that avoids sweets and sugary foods as these can actually increase anxiety and make it hard for your child to concentrate.

There are several other ways you can help your child be test ready:
  • Wearing comfortable clothes eliminates one common form of distraction (and discomfort) during testing. Planning wardrobe selections the night before can help reduce confusion and “frazzle” the morning of the test.

  • Typically, students need at least two #2 pencils (with erasers!), a calculator (if available), and a book to read if they finish the test early. A morning check that your child has all the things he or she will need for the test helps to make them fell well-prepared.

  • Making sure that your child is on time for the bus or to school—or even a little early—can help him or her maintain a calm and collected state of mind. In fact, anything that can eliminate or reduce stress, disruption, or anxiety prior to the test will help your child approach the test in a positive and confident way.

  • It is also a good idea to ensure that your child attends school during the regular testing schedule. Although make-up testing sessions are scheduled, they create their own stresses since students can miss several hours of ongoing classroom instruction while doing make-up testing.

  • If at all possible, try not to plan any doctor or dental appointments on test dates.

Promoting Positive Attitudes

Students also need to be mentally prepared for the testing experience. Tests are important to school children, especially those that affect the regular routine of their school experience. Most students want to do well on tests—and they know that you want them to do well, too. Unfortunately, being overly concerned about an assessment can cause “test anxiety.” Even an academically capable student can fall prey to excessive worry or insecurity that can be detrimental to his or her performance.

As parents, you are in a good position to recognize and acknowledge your child’s feelings and to put the test in context. Remind your child that these kinds of tests are part of the normal school routine and that you took them when you were in school. Model positive attitudes and enthusiasm for the testing process. Rather than admonishing students to take the test seriously or emphasizing the negative consequences of low scores, tell them that this is their opportunity to show how much they have learned.

If talking about the test seems to be making your child’s anxiety worse rather than better, think of ways to diffuse the stress. Take a brisk walk together, shoot
some baskets, play soothing music, read a favorite story—or any other pleasant, calming experience—to offset a bad case of “nerves.” Planning a series of physical activities and downtime throughout the testing period can reduce the chances that test anxieties will return.

Parents have a tremendous influence in building a child’s self-confidence. If you consistently encourage and praise your child for the things he or she does well, you make it clear that you believe in his or her ability to succeed. If children feel good about themselves, they will do their best.

Knowing What to Expect

As most test preparation companies know, students do better on tests when they know what to expect. Both the state PSSA tests and the performance tests adopted here in Pennridge attempt to mirror the kinds of activities and tasks students regularly encounter in classroom instruction. These tests require students to demonstrate what they know by doing a task and/or explaining how they arrived at an answer or solution.

For example, students are asked to write an essay, story or letter on a particular topic or theme to show how well they can write.

The Curriculum Office of the Pennridge School District has prepared information sheets on the Comprehensive Testing Program, known as CPT-4 (grades 9 and 10). Information about the PSSA tests (grades 3-8 and 11) is also available from the Curriculum Office or through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. These resources are also available on the Internet. (See resource list below)

A week or two before the tests are to be given, you may want to ask your child if he or she knows about the tests and the kinds of questions that may be asked. If you notice confusion or anxiety, encourage your child to ask the teacher for help or, if you have Internet access, explore the Assessment section of the PA Department of Education website for sample questions and models of student answers.

You can also incorporate “test taking” behavior into everyday routines. When you talk to your child about what he or she is learning in school, ask questions that encourage problem solving, creativity, and applications of skills in real-life situations. There are a number of skills that you can easily incorporate into your home routine:


When reading a book or watching a television show or movie, ask your child to repeat the plot, describe the story’s characters and setting, identify the problem the characters had to solve, and explain why the characters acted the way they did. Ask your child to retell what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. After you read a book together, ask your child questions about what happened and ask him or her to predict what might happen next. Work on increasing your child’s vocabulary by using and defining more difficult words in everyday speech.


Develop “prompts” for home writing activities that engage children in different kinds of writing tasks, including stories, informational essays and persuasive pieces. It is important that these be “real” writing with a “real” audience. The goal is to make writing easier and more enjoyable, so  allow your child to select—or suggest—ways to employ writing skills.

Some possibilities include the following:

  • Keep a personal journal or diary and set aside ten minutes each day to record thoughts, feelings, questions, or imaginative ideas. If your child wants to share the journal with you, read the entries and discuss them—especially the child’s ideas and perceptions.

  • Write a letter (or e-mail) to a relative or friend; better still, establish a regular correspondence with a pen pal.

  • Encourage your child to take notes on trips or outings and to describe what he or she saw.

  • Ask your child to describe people and events to you in detail; if the child’s description is especially accurate and colorful, say so.

  • Have your child help you with household correspondence, even routine tasks such as ordering items from an advertisement or writing to a business firm.

  • Encourage your child to make lists—of items they collect (recordings, baseball cards), the furniture in his or her room (for a household inventory), or of things to do (chores, homework, important dates, social events).

  • Build vocabulary through games and puzzles, especially those designed for children—or designed by your child as a family project. Crossword puzzles, word games, anagrams, cryptograms and board games (such as Scrabble and Pictionary) can all be enjoyable ways of extending your child’s vocabulary.

  • Introduce your child to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and ask him or her to record favorites, or to select quotations for other members of the family.

Rather than concentrating solely on computation, encourage your child to play with numbers. Here are some ideas:
  • Look for patterns, shapes, and sequences.

  • Encourage your child to count by three’s, five’s, or eleven’s.

  • Create number sequences (such as doubling, alternating adding and subtracting) and challenge family members to “guess the rule.”

  • Create graphs based on family activities and practice reading graphs together.

  • Look at the weather maps and predict the temperature (or the sunrise/sunset times) for the next day.

  • Practice time by setting and monitoring schedules of activities or appointments.

  • Work with money concepts by asking your child to pay for small items using coins or asking them to predict how much change they  should get from $1, $5, or $10 bills.

  • Ask your child to describe “equal shares” in fractions and then convert them into percentages.

  • Keep data logs of recurring events (such as rainfall) or examine logs of utility consumption printed on energy bills; use probability and statistics to predict—and check—the likelihood of future rainfall or usage patterns.

  • Encourage your child to observe phenomena in the natural world and to make predictions about future events and/or explain why changes occur; focus on “big ideas” or concepts such as cycles, patterns, systems, and interactions rather than on isolated bits of information. Weather, seasons, earth processes (such as erosion), phases of the moon, etc. are all usefully starting points for reviewing important science concepts.

  • Discuss common simple tools, mechanical objects, and machines, focusing on their important physical properties, component parts (such as gears, levers, screws, pulleys), and explanations of how and why they work. Educational games available on websites such as Edheads ( can be an enjoyable way to reinforce basic concepts in physical science.

  • Reinforce inquiry process skills by asking your child to come up with ways s/he could record/classify observed data, identify variables, develop a hypothesis, predict outcomes, design an experiment, etc.

Exploring Other Resources

Many useful resources are only an Internet address away. For further information, you may want to check out the following websites:

Access PSSA resource materials on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website by following the links in the left-hand panel to:
  • Programs to . . .
  • Programs O - R to . . .
  • Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) to . . .
  • Resource Materials

The U.S. Department of Education presents its Helping Your Child series of publications for parents.