7 Surefire Ways to Boost Your Students’ Test Scores



Nobody likes standardized testing, but they’re here, so we might as well prepare our students as best we can. I have English as a New Language (ENL) students who, on certain testing days, test for 12 hours a day, sometimes 24 hours in a 48 hour period, and, over the summer, 18 hours in a single day. Since nobody cares to do anything about it, I’ve decided to throw in the towel trying to get it changed, and just offer some tips so students only have to go through this once (well, five times).


  1. Block the Windows

Where I work is four-season region. We school through three seasons of it. Trust me when I say, if you are unlucky enough to have a classroom with windows, and more than two students, then one of them is going to jump and shout at the first sign of rain, snow, wind, leaves falling, people walking, firetrucks going by, or whatever else is changing or moving outside. Once one jumps up and points the excitement will rip through your class and your battleship is sunk. Even if you manage to settle them down, their minds are now permanently longing for the out-of-doors, and you’ll never be able to educate them. Best to cover windows fully, with thick material, and, whenever possible, arrange desks so that students’ backs are turned towards the glassiest regions.

  1. Lock the Door

Similar to #1, the door could be seen as a weak point in your perimeter. It is much better if you can imagine the door as a seamless part of the wall. Put your most docile, compliant student in the chair closest to the door and instruct them to open it every time there is a knock. You, the teacher, completely ignore anyone who walks in late. It’s like training a dog…you don’t give attention for not doing the trick. Once your tardy students start learning to come in on time, or find their way quickly and quietly to their desk, then you can offer them a semi-approving scowl.

This is not a matter of locking anyone out, or even locking anyone physically in. By closing and locking the door you are sending a message: you kids are locked in this room…my room…where we will study and learn until the sound of the bell. Everyone knows, intellectually, that they could stand and walk out the door, but by visibly locking and closing the door at the beginning of every class, you send the message that they belong to you for the next 42 minutes. That’s when you can really put a laser-like focus on all those 21st century skills you need to teach.

  1. Accept that School is Not the “Real World”

“What does this have to do with the real world? When are we ever going to use this?” You could try to convince them that it’s possible they may be asked a question about the Code of Hammurabi during a job interview. You could also suggest that it’s possible a psychopath may break into their home, duct tape their arms to a chair, and threaten to cut a digit off their right hand for every variable they miss in the formula of a parabola. Another strategy would be to act very busy, assure the student you’ll give them several answers after class, accuse them of mumbling, give an ambiguous answer but promise a more complete answer after school when you have more time, and just keep pushing it off until they quit and do the assignment.

Honestly, most students are going to see right through these things, and it’s going to nag at you, as well, so it’s best that we all just come to terms with the fact that school is not the real world. Once we all accept it we’ll be in a better, more honest space, and can get on with the business of boosting scores. Work is work, family is family, school is school, and so on. It is its own thing. If students still have a problem with that, just remind them that prom, the big homecoming game, and robotics club also has nothing to do with the real world, so unless they want prom taken away, they can sit down, be quiet, and do all the odd numbered problems on page 359 for homework. You have five more minutes in class, you may get a head start now.

  1. Control Your Students’ Every Move

As was told to me in a professional development, by the time kids get to 9th grade they are in the 10th year of a job they wanted to quit five years ago. As such, they need very clear directions at every step, or they are just going to fold their hand. Luckily, this is also research-based…the more the classroom is managed, the higher the students will score on exams. A direct correlation.

When teaching, I suggest a hook, followed by direct instruction, followed by independent work, followed by an exit ticket. Only allow students to speak when you call on them, never allow them near your desk, and use the strategy of “I’ll talk to you about that later” for any distraction…they will tire of whatever curiousness they had, I promise you; in 9 years I can’t remember a single student who stayed after school to talk about whatever “it” was.

  1. Challenge your Students

We’ve all had the experience of the student who could not pay attention to you at all, distract other students, or sleep through your class, and still know all the answers, perhaps even better than you. How infuriating! It is imperative that you remove that student from your class at once. Some suggestions include independent book projects in the library or suspension for insubordination. You could also have them transferred to a lower track class (not socially ready) or an upper track class (you are excited for them to see their full potential and always believed in them). Whatever it is, that kid needs to leave, or others will assume the matter of the standardized test simple and not give the challenging nature of your work its proper due.

  1. Offer Support After School

They’re not going to stay, you don’t want to stay, and odds are you’ll be sitting in a classroom until 4:30 with the one student who can’t string together a single sentence. It definitely isn’t going to work, so…

  1. Cheat

I actually don’t like the word “cheating” as it applies to changing answers on a student’s test. The connotation is misleading. When the feds automatically take money out of our paycheck for taxes, aren’t they cheating us out of our right to protest paying taxes? No, they are using every strategy at their disposal to collect the money to pay for the roads and the bridges and the ten billion dollar aircraft carriers we all use. When we use said aircraft carrier to combat the mighty navy of the Taliban, could that not be considered cheating? After all, they don’t have planes that can take off of ships. That would imply they have planes. Or ships. Again, we’re just using the resources at our disposal.

At any rate, you may argue that “cheating” is fair in war, but less so for exams. To which I would respond, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Peter Theil, Colonel Sanders, Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Mary Kay Ash, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Zuckerberg, Abraham Lincoln, Milton Hershey, Ralph Lauren, and quite a few others, got to where they got going the opposite direction as everyone else. If they were to have colored within the lines (or within those stupid little scantron bubbles) their whole lives, then odds are they’d be working at McDonalds. Except there wouldn’t be a McDonalds, because if Ray Kroc had done all the right things his entire life, then he would have been too busy studying to have bothered to drop out of High School to invent fast food. We would call these people innovators. So, if you decide to utilize innovative methods to boost student test scores, here are some specific suggestions you may consider.

  1. It’s best to “help” while proctoring. So long as you’re discrete, other students will be too busy with their own test to notice, and other proctors too absorbed in their Danielle Steel to care.
  2. Only help “borderline” students. It does you no good sticking your neck out to make a 35% into a 40%, or an 85% into a 90%.
  3. In addition, when switching multiple choice questions, be sure to switch one from “correct” to “incorrect” for every three you switch from “incorrect” to “correct.” When a dozen tests have a dozen questions, each that were switched from “incorrect” to “correct”, eyebrows raise. I need not add: randomize which you switch.
  4. Don’t bother with short answers or essays. You obviously can’t write it for them, and who knows if yours will be that much better, anyhow (let’s be honest…you haven’t written this type of essay since you were in school).
  5. Don’t merely innovate for your own students. The first thing an investigator looks for is a motive. If your only reason is a love for humanity, but there is nothing that connects you to the particular student, such as evaluations or merit pay, then all the more difficult to trace it back to you if there’s suspicion.
  6. Last tip…don’t tell anyone, not even your spouse, not even your student, not even facebook. It will get out, and it will come back. Just know that for every student you help to get through, an angel gets their wings.
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