Thursday, January 19, 2012

The PSSA isn't a DIFFICULT test....the PSSA is a TRICKY test.

This is my mantra and I repeat it over and over and over and over again. It is very important for my students to understand that this test isn't timed for a reason. Aside from teaching students the necessary comprehension skills that are needed to navigate the standardized test, it is important to teach them "how" to take THE test. I always tell them, the test isn't timed for a reason. TAKE YOUR TIME, YOU DO NOT GET BONUS POINTS FOR FINISHING EARLY.....I have given this test for the last 13 years and I can say that I have seen some students make the same mistake over and over and over again....How many times did you want to cringe when you see a student answer a question incorrectly and you KNOW they KNOW the answer......READ! is what I want to shout.....OMG!!!  I finally got hip to this problem and began teaching the tricks to "passing" this test. I tell them all year everything that I want them to remember when they take the test. I even give 5 minute drills where students have to write as many strategies and tips they can remember. We even make flip books. They get so used to writing and hearing these tips that they actually think twice when testing! So, let me share some of these tips with you....

#1. The "testmakers" (that is the name that I gave them) expect you to make certain mistakes and they put those mistakes on the test as an option. And, if you are not carefull, you will make this mistake. For example, when they ask you for the synonym of a word, alot of times they will put the atonym as option A....IF you are not paying attention you will choose this answer. What can you do? You can cirlce the word synonym. Just by doing this, you are highlighting what they are asking you for. AND if you say to yourself, "I am looking for the synonym", you are less likey to make a silly mistake.

#2. Many times if you read the multiple choice questions before responding to your open-ended response, you will find that there is a multiple choice question that is similar to the open-ended question. For example, there might be a multiple choice question asking you for the main idea of the passsage. Then your open-ended question may ask you to summarize the passage. Well......if you use your 2 W's strategy (who did what), you will be able to identify the main idea. Then, when writing this summary **lightbulb** already have your topic sentence (main idea) writen for you!!!!! YES, this is true. It isn't guarenteed to always happen; however, looking for this clue is very helpful int he event that it does happen.

#3. If you are stumped when trying to figure out the main idea....and yes, this sometimes happens. Remember.....the title is the shortest possible summary. Reread the title and it should give you a clue as to what the overall main idea of the story is. If this is a nonfiction passage, always reread the first and last paragraph; it will usually be stated in the opening paragraph and restated in the final paragraph (just like when we write a 5-paragraph essay....reading and writing go hand in hand!)

#4. Some questions that follow a reading passage can be answered without reading the passage!!!! A fact is a fact is a fact is a fact. If you know the difference between fact and opinion, it doesn't matter what the passage is about. Answer the question BEFORE you read. That way when you are reading the passage you can focus on looking for the answers that you need the passage for. Other questions that can be answered without reading the passage are: Which is an example of alliteration/personification/metaphor/simile/onomatopoeia.....Let's read with a purpose!!!

#5. Elliminate the NONSENSE answers. Everytime you elliminate an impossible answer you increase your chances of getting the correct answer. USUALLY when a response uses an extreme word like NEVER or ALWAYS, it is usually incorrect.

These tips do not take the place of learning important skills and strategies for math and reading. HOWEVER, these are tips that every student should be aware of. Like I said.....the PSSA is not a difficult test (especially when you can use your comprehension strategies to understand a variety of texts)....but is a TRICKY test and knowing what tricks to expect is half the battle.

Stay posted as I continue to post strategies and teaching tips that will definitely help you prepare your students for the upcoming TEST.....Feel free to share any of your tips and insights, I look forward to it.

Ms. Wainwright : )


  1. Great ideas! I am ALWAYS talking about #4 (which is one of the reasons I teach my kids to read the passage first) Must be a test prep kind of day :)

    Teaching in Room 6

  2. I am in full swing testing mode! I am always looking for ways to make test prep "authentic" and meaningful....but there are times when you just have to teach them HOW to take the test.....

  3. Great post! I always talk about #1 and #5 also. Those questions are tricky. I really like #3. Thanks!

  4. As a student in 8th grade, with the PSSA coming up on Tuesday, and a prep day on Monday, I have found that the test can be challenging if you do not know what you are looking for. That aside, I like the tips you have provided on this page. I would like to suggest a sixth, which mainly applies to the Reading portions of the test: "#6: Many answers can be found in the boxes above the passages. These boxes can reveal main ideas and genres, among other things." Example: "Read the following informational passage about a boy crossing the sea to America. Then answer questions 27-33." This shows that the author's purpose is to be informational, and that the story is about a boy travelling to America by sea.