ERIC Identifier: ED315435
Publication Date: 1989-02-00
Author: Bagin, Carolyn Boccella
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for Research Washington DC.

Talking to Your High School Students about Standardized Tests. ERIC Digest No. 105.

Although your school district may have counselors or testing specialists who explain standardized test procedures and test results to high school students, as a teacher, your students may look to you for some answers about testing.

This digest explains basic elements about tests and gives you some hints so that you can help your students feel comfortable with standardized tests. If your students understand the role that standardized tests play in their school careers, they may be more at ease when they take them, and thus, may perform better on them.


Usually created by commercial test publishers, standardized tests are designed to give a common measure of students' performance. They help compare an individual student's performance with the performance of a group of students from a given class, school, or school system. Since large numbers of students throughout the country take the same test, "standards" can be developed to show whether school programs are succeeding or how students are performing.

Different types of standardized tests have different purposes. Standardized achievement tests measure how much your students have already learned about school subjects such as reading, math, language skills, spelling, or science. On the other hand, standardized aptitude tests measure your students' ability to learn in school. They measure verbal ability, mechanical ability, creativity, clerical ability, or abstract reasoning. Some popular tests include the California Achievement Tests (CAT), the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), or the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale.

Your students need to understand that standardized tests have limitations; they give isolated snapshots of their performance at a specific time. You can help them learn that tests do not measure perfectly what students can or cannot do. Students have skills and abilities that standardized tests cannot measure and many factors can affect their scores on a particular test. In fact, test scores can vary from day to day.


Before your students take a standardized test, review these tips so that they are ready to do their best.

Before the test... 1. Help your students understand that testing is a normal school activity. When they reach particular grade levels, students throughout the country take standardized tests as part of planned school programs. 2. Tell your students the purpose of the test they will take, how long they will wait for test results, and how the test results will be used. 3. Explain how they will receive the test results--if the results will be mailed directly to their homes and if, as a matter of course, their counselors will schedule meetings to discuss them. 4. Briefly explain normal testing procedures. Tell them when and where they will take the test, how long the test will take, and what kind of pencils they should have. Tell them to arrive early at the test site; it will help them remain calm. If you monitor the test, be sure all the students fully understand the test directions. 5. Many students are unfamiliar with timed tests and, thus, become anxious about them. It may help if they practice answering timed questions on their own sometime before the test day. If the testing company provides practice booklets, encourage your students to use them; they help in understanding how the particular test works. 6. Tell your students to carefully mark each answer. If they have to erase an answer, they must erase it thoroughly to register their intended responses. 7. Remind your students that they'll have to stay aware of the time throughout the entire test and, if they finish early, they should review their answers. 8. Guessing can have a great impact your students' results. Find out how the particular test is scored and if students are penalized for guessing. 9. Tell your students not to spend too much time on any one question. They may find it helpful to skip the hardest questions and then go back to them later. 10. Mention the hazards of statements that say "All of the above" or "None of the above." 11. For number problems, students should always estimate their answers before working them out to determine if their calculations are reasonable.

After the test... 1. Immediately after the test, encourage your students to talk about their experience. Discussions may help them to vent any frustration they feel about the testing process. 2. When students receive their test results, don't discuss an individual's test scores in front of the entire class, rather talk about the class's performance as a whole. You may want to discuss these questions. Was the class's performance above or below the performance of other students in the district? in the country? In what areas did the class do best? In what areas did the class have difficulty? Were the class's results consistent with day-to-day performance? 3. If you discuss test scores with students, set up private conferences with them. Encourage them to interpret their own performance. Do they think the scores accurately assessed their abilities or knowledge? How do their scores compare with their classroom performance? Were their scores higher or lower than they anticipated? 4. If you do discuss test scores with individual students, be careful of the words you use. Students may have a natural curiosity or anxiety about test results; they could be easily misled by unguarded comments. 5. Remind students that they shouldn't make major decisions about their futures based on the results of one test. They need to consider their entire school history, their grade records, and their activities and interests before they solidify their career goals.


This digest highlights some important points about testing, but you may want to explore these issues further. Here is a list of some helpful resources.

Anastasi, Anne. Psychological Testing. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1982.

Herndon, Enid B. Your Child and Testing. Washington, DC: National Institute for Education, October 1980.

Illinois State Board of Education. Assessment Handbook: A Guide for Assessing Illinois Students. 1988.

Lyman, Howard B. Test Scores and What They Mean. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.

Michigan State Board of Education. Pencils Down! A Guide for Using and Reporting Test Results. (2nd ed.), 1987.

National Education Association. Standardized Testing Issues: Teachers' Perspectives. Washington, DC: NEA, 1977.

National School Public Relations Association. A parent's guide to Standardized Aptitude and Achievement Testing. Arlington, Virginia: NSPRA, 1978.

Rudman, Herbert C. "Classroom Instruction and Tests: What Do We Really Know About the Link?" NASSP Bulletin. February 1987, pp. 3-21.

Weinstein, Claire E. How to Help Your Children Achieve in School. Washington, DC: National Institute of Education, March 1983. ED 233 814.

Library Reference Search

Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit.  Further, this site is using a privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government. This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC.  No new content will ever appear here that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.

Popular Pages

More Info