Testing! Testing! Helping Students Overcome Test Anxiety and Prepare for Tests" DAY 2, Post 2

Thank you for this rich discussion, Daphne! Let's get to our final question:

Does the mind's inclination towards recency bias make the case for leaving test prep until the very end? Let's discuss the pros...and cons of introducing test prep as its own unit versus teaching it along side the concepts students are learning.


Although the mind is inclined towards recency bias, there are more reasons—beneficial ones—to have test prep fully integrated with classroom lessons. Once separated, the risk is that learners will conclude that test prep is a separate--as in  "unrelated"--matter to the curricular focus. Rather than combining classroom learning with test taking's thinking skills, learners are left to make the association between what they have learned and the logic of the test tricks that so often dominate test prep. 

Placing test prep in the context of what is being taught means that there is a greater probability that students will be able to connect the dots and use those associations to cement learning.  For example, if instructors are teaching word problems, they can talk about a process for tackling them; they can take the time to explore the two primary types of word problems—the ones where all the information presented is needed for the solution versus the ones where extraneous details are included that have nothing to do with the solution. From there, the instructor can model the approach to each type--discussing what information is needed to solve the problem (data sufficiency) and how to determine what tools are needed for the solution. Instructors can ask participants to present real-life problems and their associated facts prompting learners to think about the problems and their possible solutions. What facts and what tools are needed?

Thinking holistically about Knowles’ characteristics of adult learners, integrating test prep and rationalizing higher order thinking skills are ways to address adult learners’ focus on the practicality and immediate utility of classroom learning.  Separating test prep from the classroom, creates an artificial construct that makes it difficult for learners to make the necessary associations between what happens in the classroom and its alignment with learners’ goals and desired outcomes including successful testing results. 

Make no mistake:  Good instruction equals good test prep. Period.  Integration of these concepts allows for a richer and more powerful developmental experience for adult learners.


Daphne, You offer a useful example of how to approach math instruction that integrates the type of thinking required to respond effectively on tests. I'm thinking about testing reading and writing. One resource I've drawn upon for reading is CommonLit which features articles with reading comprehension questions that are similar to those on TABE and on high school equivalency tests. There is always a multiple-choice question about the main or central idea and a follow up question asking about evidence drawn from the text that supports the main idea.

I think main idea questions are often challenging. I would love to hear your thoughts on using materials with questions that mirror the tests learners have to take.  

Testing writing is a whole other ball game! I'd love to hear your thoughts on that as well.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Hello Susan,

I wanted to reply to your response about using questions stems like the tests learners take. This year I presented a professional learning webinar on the questions from the GEDTS® study guide for RLA.  Here is the GED RLA Scope and Sequence I created from the GED®  released resources. I used the sample test questions and generalized them to be useful for any passage that I teach. Here are the GED Generalized Questions. In a follow-up webinar, I modeled how to use a Commonlit passage (A Quick Note on Getting Better at Difficult Things by T. Coates) and create questions from my generalized list that match that particular passage. I agree with Daphne that good teaching is the best test prep. I look forward to reading her response to you as well.

Bethany Rudd, Associate Director, MSU Adult Education Academy

Hello Susan, 

Thanks for your comment.  I would agree that main idea questions are often challenging.  I think that this results from learners having a tendency to see all words on the page as having equal "weight." The latter is best illustrated by student behavior when asked to highlight text.  More often than not, they will highlight everything!  One the best ways to learn about main ideas is to engage learners in both reading and writing.  

One place to start would be to model how to approach identifying the main idea in a short paragraph.  You could start with a few questions:

1) How do I know what the paragraph is about? (think aloud)

2) How do I know what the main idea is? (think aloud)

3) Can I draw a graphic with the main idea at the top and then add the evidence that support the main idea?  (illustrate your thinking)

It is important to help learners see more than mere words on the page.  Help them see the paragraph's structure:  the writer's intent and the support that is used for the main idea.  Start with the simple and then move to the more complex.  Post a few main ideas along with some evidence. Have them choose a main idea and practice writing a short paragraph related to that main idea.  Ideally, you could then take the main idea and supporting evidence and connect it to writing a short email for work--giving you the opportunity to work in the relevancy and practicality aspects.  Alternatively, you could have them analyze a paragraph from an email applying the same questions. You could engage them in critiquing how the main idea is expressed and what evidence is offered.  Show them a range of texts--informational, scientific, and literary--to reinforce the value of this set of skills.  You want them to know that main ideas and supporting evidence are part of all content areas and can help them become more skilled readers and writers.   


Thank you, Beth and Daphne, These ideas are super useful.  Any teacher could benefit from these approaches. I love that you emphasize "think alouds," Daphne. I'm reminded of Reading Apprenticeship (lots of free resources available here), which has been central to my own practice. Thanks for linking us to your GED Generalized Questions, Beth!

Cheers, Susan