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6 Practical Ideas for Successful Test Prep This Season

Test Prep

Is your test prep game in need of a rebound? Sure, March Madness is starting this week, but for us teachers, it’s testing season. With standardized state assessments and AP exams right around the corner, I worked on my game plan for test prep, and I’m sharing it today.

Check out this post for six practical (and fun) ideas for test prep that your students are sure to love but will also get them ready for exam day!


1. Card Challenge Quizzes

I was first introduced to this strategy by a former co-worker, and since then, I’ve used it every year with so much success. She came up with the idea of using a quiz bank to combat students sharing questions with later periods in the day. If you teach the same class more than once a day, this type of sharing is sure to happen. However, using a bank method with a random draw for questions minimizes the likelihood that they’ll share answers. If nothing else, it works because they don’t know which questions they’ll receive on quiz day. To make the stakes a bit higher and since we’re using cards anyway, the quiz is also a game of chance. If students pull a straight (it doesn’t have to be in order) with Ace being high or low, they don’t have to take the quiz and everyone gets a perfect score!

Here’s how it works:
1. Make a quiz bank of at least 13 questions. (You could add up to 52 questions in one set; one question for each card.)
2. Add the questions to PowerPoint presentation giving each question a card in the suit.
3. Separate one suit of cards Ace to King (13 in all).
4. Select five different students to pick one card from the suit.
5. Use those cards for your questions. Ask the questions that correspond to those cards.
This quiz “game” can work with any short quiz. I use it for reading check quizzes to check comprehension after independent reading. It also works great for test prep. I make a bank of literary terms examples and use this method for literary terms speed quizzes in preparation for the AP Literature and Composition exam.
My students enjoy playing this “game,” and I am happy to know that the integrity of the quiz is maintained (or at least improved). It’s so exciting when a class finally pulls that straight! It usually only happens about once in a school year for one class. If you’re worried about them pulling it too often, don’t! The probability of them pulling the straight from 13 cards a in single suit is 1 in 128.7 attempts or .7% of pulling the straight.

2. Prompt-Essay Writing Prep

When it comes to acing high-stakes, on-demand writing, the first and, in my opinion, most important factor is understanding exactly what the prompt asks you to do. Because standardized writing is graded holistically, it is impossible for students to score above average if they do not directly answer the prompt. If a student writes an essay with advanced diction, pristine organization, and an insightful analysis but doesn’t directly answer the prompt, their effort was all for naught. Even though students do not have time to complete developed prewriting on timed tests, the skills that are required for this analysis can be practiced and perfected. Conducting a prompt analysis is a great way to practice these skills. Here’s how we do it:

1. I give them 30 seconds to read the prompt.
2. Then, I ask them to turn the prompt over and immediately write down what the prompt was asking them to do.
3. We review their responses. It’s not surprising with such a short reading that students miss something from the prompt. During this discussion, I make the point that hurried reading of the prompt when I time them or they’re under pressure result in the same problem: lack of understanding.

We use a prompt essay writing process notebook to practice these skills in conjunction with organization. I’ve found that practicing these skills in a low-stakes environment gives them confidence and “brain-memory” to be able to do it on demand.

3. Scorer Training

I had an epiphany after I attended an AP training. I was learning how to score these essays, so I can help my students, but wouldn’t it also help them to learn what the AP readers are looking for? I decided it was important for them to learn about the grading process, so we do intensive grading training, just like the scorers of standardized tests. They learn that holistic scoring means their writing will be scored as a whole rather than individual sections. I show them the difference between a holistic rubric used for standardized tests and an analytical essay that breaks down each category for scoring with a set number of points. You can read about my “scorer training” through peer review below or on my Instagram.

This is how I set up peer review for AP, but it could work for any class. I number across desks with sticky notes (you know I love them! 😂) for how many students I have in class. I use washi tape to cover the names because it comes off easily afterwards, and it’s not see-through (but most of all bc it’s pretty!). Then, I give each paper two sticky notes. I distribute the papers and the holistic rubric, and the students read and provide comments on the sticky notes. Once they’re done, they put their numbered sticky notes back on the original table under the same number. We repeat for the second reviewer. This works really well because the second reviewer isn’t influenced by the first reviewer, but we can stick them all back together at the end for the owner. Finally, the owner reviews his/her own after now having read two other papers and becoming familiar with the rubric. Not only does this process give them valuable feedback, but it really helps them understand what the scorers need to see for a high scoring essay. 🎉
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4. QR Code Word Walls

QR Code Word Walls are a great way to improve retention of important testing terms, literary devices, or advanced vocabulary. Because students are engaged in the process of teaching, they are more likely to recall the terms later on. You can check out the details here.

5. Text Dependent Analysis Resources

Text-dependent analysis, analysis that requires students to synthesize information based on textual evidence, an important skill not only for test prep but for real-world interactions. What I love about text-dependent analysis is that it works great in print and even better in digital format.
This is an example of a digital text-dependent analysis for the “Tomorrow” Soliloquy from Macbeth. Students must use their active reading skills to engage with the text.
I recently found CommonLit from B’s Book Love. What’s great about this source is that it provides hundreds of {free} nonfiction and fiction texts paired with guided reading, textual analysis, and discussion assessments. It can be printed or used digitally.

6. Test Prep Fun

Test prep doesn’t have to be a battle. In fact, I like to sneak it in so that my students don’t even realize it’s test prep. Well, they might realize it, but at least, it’s fun.
My husband uses Kahoot to review with his students. Students need a SmartPhone, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop to participate in this fun real-time review game. Because Kahoot has a sharing component that allows teachers to share and search Kahoots for any subject and level, you might even be able to find ready-made review games for your students. (My husband found a ready-made Kahoot for every single unit in this AP Government textbook!)
Another fun idea is to throw it back to their elementary days.


Remember 7 Up? We do! Today we did a throwback to elementary school to prep for our Romantic Poetry unit test, and it was so much fun! You must try this! It’s easy, fun, and effective! Here’s what we did: I picked 7 students. They picked a classmate 7-Up style. Here’s where the prep comes in: the students who were picked have to answer a question. If it’s answered correctly, they replace the person who picked them. If they get it wrong, someone who wasn’t picked can steal. In English 12, we used this game to practice vocab before our test. I give a sentence with the word; they explain the word’s meaning. For AP, I give a literary term, they have to give a definition or an example. These are seniors by the way…playing 7 Up! I’m so thankful they humor my 😜 ideas! #igteacherpd #igteacherpdtestprep
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This really was as much fun as it looks!

Good luck during test prep season!

How To Wow Your Students with QR Code Word Walls

Featured, Test Prep
Download your free cellphone clip art template and follow the step-by-step directions to bring your word walls to life with this interactive QR Code Word Wall activity!

I’ve tried so many ways to teach literary terms. I’m up for anything that doesn’t involve me standing in front of the room dictating the definitions to a room of unengaged students. Some of the ideas worked and others not so much. Thankfully, we finally found a winner! Our QR Code Word Wall is a definite keeper!

Here’s why:

  • It’s versatile. Word walls, in general, build familiarity with important words. Weekly vocabulary words, SAT prep vocab, and literary terms are just a few of the many content-driven applications.
  • It’s collaborative. Students are a part of the word wall creation, so they take ownership of the words.
  • It’s fun. We set up a “filming corner,” and they go to work adding their own flair. Because each QR Code corresponds to a video of an explanation of the word by one of my students, they find it fun to watch the videos of their classmates. I like it because it’s a great way to infuse multiple voices into the classroom aside from the teacher.
  • It’s decorative. They look great! It can be a bit challenging to spice up the classroom in older grades yet maintain a more sophisticated look. We love the way our word wall looks!
  • It’s effective. The wall can be added to throughout the year, and we can reference it whenever we need to. I also noticed that students associated each word with the person who explained the term, and therefore, they were able to retain the information longer and more accurately.
  • It’s easy. Keep reading and I’ll show you how!


1) First decide on your list. I created simple black and white printouts using cardstock. For my example, we used challenging AP literary terms. I love that my students can be involved in creating the list. My students use this TALK guide to annotate their texts. The “K” stands for “Key in” and asks them to key in on important literary terms. We use this guide to find and reiterate our literary terms. I also like involving students on the selection of our words. I use Bookmark Vocabulary for student-led contextual vocabulary study.

2) Give each student a word and give them this assignment:

  • Be able to pronounce your word correctly. They can look the word up on or YouTube for the pronunciation.
  • Be able to tell me the definition.
  • Be able to give me an example.

I gave this short assignment as homework. I also didn’t reveal what we were doing with it until the next day…sneak attack!

3) Set up a filming space. I used an old roll of dark blue wrapping paper for our backdrop. I simply taped it to the wall, and set up my podium across it to hold our iPad. I used my school-issued iPad for the taping, but you could also use a SmartPhone.
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4) Film the students. I sent my students out in the hall in groups of three to do their own filming. We easily got through 16 students in one 40-minute class period. The rest of the class was working on another assignment.

5) If you don’t have it on your device already, download Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or another cloud. Save all of your videos to that cloud.

6) Access the videos from your cloud on your computer and copy the shareable link.

Download your free cellphone clip art template and follow the step-by-step directions to bring your word walls to life with this engaging, interactive activity!

I like to use Google Drive because our school issues Google email addresses to the students. This makes it possible for the links to only be viewable to members of our district.

7) Next, paste each shared URL into a QR Code generator, and save the QR code. There are so many options, but I like this one.

8) I made colorful cell phone clip art to display our QR codes with their matching words. You can get template free below.

9) I found some packaging tape, and I taped these terms on three different spots around my room.

10) As the culminating activity, my students walked around the room with their cell phones or one of our school-issued iPads and scanned the QR codes. They recorded the definitions and examples in their notes.

My students really loved creating this word wall, and they asked if we could continue to add words throughout the year.  When you hear a high schooler say, “This is so cool!” you know it’s a keeper!

Download your free cellphone clip art template and follow the step-by-step directions to bring your word walls to life with this engaging, interactive activity!