How to Help Your Child Succeed on Standardized Tests

By Judy Molland

Standardized tests are difficult enough for students who are visual learners. But if your child has a different learning style - based on hearing or physical movement - these tests can be overwhelming. Help your child maximize his learning style to better prepare for exams.

6 Tips to Improve Test Scores

With all the pressure surrounding the standardized testing of children, it's understandable that parents themselves are nervous about the exams. Here are some ways you can help your child be prepared:

  • Read to your child early and often, and encourage him to read on his own. A good vocabulary is essential to do well on most standardized tests.
  • Learn everything you can about the test your child will be taking. Talk with her about the kinds of questions that may appear on the exam.
  • Watch for anxious behaviors in your child, such as staying up late to cram or being too worried to eat properly.
  • Acknowledge that tests are stressful. But emphasize that, with preparation, your child will be ready for the challenge.
  • Sleep. Make sure your child gets enough sleep the night before the test, and send him off with a good breakfast. Avoid any conflicts on the morning of the test.
  • Support. Assure your child that if he's done his best, both you and he can be satisfied. Don't give him the message that you'll only be happy with A's.
  • - Judy Molland

    Some relish the exams as a welcome break from the regular routine. But, for others, the tension and stress that accompanies standardized testing is enough to make them throw up - literally. While all kids are accustomed to paper-and-pencil tests, some children's learning styles simply aren't suited to this approach. Standardized tests tend to cater to the visual learner, the child who learns by seeing and making pictures in her mind. The ability to adjust these tests for other learning styles just doesn't exist, nor is it likely to emerge any time soon, according to Amy James, author of a series of grade-level education books for parents and a consultant on state and federal education standards.

    What if your child is a kinesthetic learner who uses physical actions to help him learn? Or an auditory learner who needs to hear things in order to succeed on a test? You want him to do well, and he wants to do well, but how do you proceed?

    Helping Non-Visual Learners

    The rules of standardized testing can really hamper a child who isn't a visual learner, James says. "It's a very regimented environment and a very time-driven environment."

    Children have to fill in the circles in an exact way; they have to answer only certain questions during an allotted time period; they can't open the test booklet until the teacher tells them to, and they can't talk, James says. A visual learner is pretty good at these things, she notes, but kinesthetic and auditory learners need some practice before entering the testing situation.

    James suggests the following tips to parents who are looking to help their non-visual learners prepare for standardized tests:

    • Practice time management. It's hard for small children to answer questions in a finite time period. Give your child 10 minutes to clean his room, and set an egg timer.

    • Learn to follow directions. Children can't succeed on tests unless they can follow specific directions. Tell your child she has to take one bite of each thing on her plate before she can take a second bite of anything.

    • Practice adhering to written instructions. Whether children do well or poorly on tests often depends on their ability to read and follow written instructions. Give your child a new toy with written directions on how to use it; then let him figure it out by following those directions.

    • Get organized. It's hard to teach organization to young children, but they need this to do well on these tests. Give your child toys to organize in certain ways or games that require organizing cards or objects.

    Kinesthetic Learners

    Along with James' tips for non-visual learners, a kinesthetic learner can also benefit from some specific strategies.

    Veteran third-grade teacher Rich Stewart advises giving physical cues. "For example," Stewart says, "I tell kids to tap their pencil on their leg three times if they're having trouble concentrating." Or he'll tell his active students to turn the pencil upside down at the beginning of a test, with the eraser at the bottom, and then turn it back over, so that the lead is ready to go when the teacher says to start. The idea is that any kind of tiny physical movement associated with the stressful situation will help.

    Auditory Learners

    James believes that auditory learners probably suffer the most with standardized tests. One helpful tip for these kids is to have them imagine sounds in their head.

    "Tell your child to read the question aloud in her head," James says, "or anything at all to cue a listening feeling, even though she won't be able to have a lot of noise during the tests. These children can get into a very quiet situation, and find that they just cannot concentrate. So you have to teach them to create some traffic in their head."

    Visual Strategies for Non-Visual Learners

    Non-visual learners can also develop visual techniques to help them prepare for standardized tests. Pat Wyman, an education professor author of Learning vs. Testing, offers these ideas for parents trying to help their children:

    • Tell your child to get an image in his mind of a picture on the wall in his room. Ask him to imagine exactly what it looks like, in every detail.

    • Encourage him to get an image in his mind of what his best friend looks like, and to describe what he was wearing yesterday.

    • Have him think of a movie that he's seen recently and describe one of the characters in it.

    Asking your child to perform these tasks requires him to get a picture in his mind in order to answer the question. "Since the world does not cater to your child's particular learning style, you are empowering him when you help him add other learning style strategies," Wyman says.

    Practice … and More Practice

    Standardized tests have been around for a long time. But increased testing and national efforts to improve children's academic achievement have put this kind of testing under a microscope. These exams aren't going away, so it's essential to get your child accustomed to them, says elementary education specialist Barbara Ford, Ed.D.

    Encourage your children to participate in preparation courses for the SAT or state-mandated standardized tests. And remember to support your child's efforts, no matter how she performs on a particular test, Ford says. Standardized tests are stressful enough; kids need to know their parents are in their corner, no matter what.

    Resources: Books

    Resources: Web Sites

    • How to Learn - Learning styles expert Pat Wyman's Web site offers a free downloadable inventory of questions to determine your child's learning style. 

    • VARK - Developed by learning expert Neil Fleming, VARK provides an online questionnaire to determine your child's learning style, along with useful "help sheets" with study strategies.

    Resources: Articles

    Judy Molland is an education writer and frequent contributpr to Dominion Parenting Media.  Her most recent book is Straight Talk about Schools Today. Listen to her Straight Talk About Schools podcasts.