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Steps to Take Before a Standardized Exam Plus, Study Skills Tips

by Lynne M. Popp Educational Therapy, Inc.
When your child has learning issues, "test taking" is very complicated and the thought of taking a standardized test can be overwhelming. Here are suggestions to help prepare for taking a standardized test.


  1. Plan early. If you or your child has a learning disability you must prepare months before a test. You need a paper trail documenting the learning disability to receive testing accommodations. This is very important. These accommodations should be written in your child’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) or in the 504 Plan. It is also very important that you or your child has used these accommodations in school.
  2. Do your research. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) website, is an excellent website providing accommodation information. You will find information about the various standardized tests. ETS states that reasonable testing accommodations are provided for candidates with documented disabilities as recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA mandates that test accommodations be individualized. Some examples of accommodations are; extended testing time (the amount of extra time needs to be specified, such as, time and one-half), additional rest breaks, large print, and audio recording.
  3. Read all you can about what documentation is needed. Don't assume anything. Ask an educational therapist about your child's educational rights. There is excellent information about educational rights at Education-A-Must at
Here are some useful tips for test preparation. I have gathered information from a book titled Learning Outside the Lines written by two Ivy League students with learning disabilities, Jonathan Mooney and David Cole. The other tips have been compiled from learning disability conferences. There are also excellent software programs that you can purchase for test preparation.

I have adapted these for standardized tests, but you can use them for all exams. Remember that not every tip will work for your learning style so use the ones that will benefit you.

Tips to help you prepare for test day.

  • Ask how the test is organized. Are the easier questions at the beginning of each section, while the harder ones are at the end?
  • Find out the format of the test and what types of questions will be asked.
  • Try sample questions to help you identify areas where you need improvement.
  • Know how the test is scored so you can plan your time accordingly. For example, is there a penalty for incorrect answers or questions left blank?
  • Join a study group.
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep each night during the week leading up to the test.
  • Stay hydrated with water and exercise to improve concentration.
Tips to help you on test day.
  • Remember to eat breakfast.
  • Complete a few warm up questions to get into test-taking mode.
  • Think positively by imagining getting questions you know the answers to, expressing yourself clearly and concisely, and feeling good about your performance.
  • Envision how it will feel to be done.
Tips to help you prepare before the test begins.
  • Arrive early if you are getting accommodations or be on time.
  • Get the priority seat. If you get distracted, stay away from windows and doors. Also, if you need to take breaks, sit on an aisle.
  • If you have trouble getting started with a test, then warm up by writing or brainstorming on a piece of paper. Write about your material, your goals, or just the atmosphere.
Tips to help you during the test.
  • When the instructor starts giving instructions, stop whatever you are doing. Record any questions you have.
  • Read the directions carefully. Read them twice.
  • Understanding what you read is important. Don't worry if you are a slow reader.
  • Scan the questions before you start to get a feel for the test.
  • Save time and energy by having your test paper and answer sheet close together.
  • If you are using an answer key that is separate from the questions, stop and make sure you are on target every five questions.
  • Read each question carefully and note key words and phrases so you only have to read the questions once.
  • Budget your time so you can answer all parts of the test.
  • Use scratch paper to help track lines or mask distracting print.
  • Answer the easy questions if you have a hard time getting started. If you get tired by the end of the test, then you may want to leave the easy ones for last.
  • Read all the answers before selecting the best one. Change an answer you believe is incorrect.
  • Avoid frequent glances at the clock; you’ll break your concentration and waste time.
  • If you find yourself staring off into space, tapping your pen, or rubbing your chin, you've spent too much time on that question.
  • Try to force recall, by association, when questions seem vaguely familiar.
  • If there is a rest break between sections, try to relax and avoid second-guessing your exam performance.
  • Always review by making sure your name is on the exam and that you answered all the questions. If something is unanswered and you will not be penalized for a wrong answer,guess.
  • Lynne Popp is an educational therapist in Nebraska.
    You can call her at: (402) 498-8708

    Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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