Math Test-Taking Strategies for Elementary Students (2024)

Testing is a high-stakes event for students and for teachers and so we want our students to do their best. At the same time, our students want to show us their best work.

Another factor to remember is that our students’ test results matter for our jobs, because our supervisors are looking over our shoulders to see how students are progressing. Compounding the issue is that we are not always in control of the way our students are tested as those tests often come from the math department, an outside consultant, or even from a statewide testing agency.

That brings up the conflict I know I often feel: How much time do I spend teaching math test-taking strategies as opposed to focusing on the content. Am I teaching to the test? How important is that?

With the Standards for Mathematical Practice, there are now “constructed response” items that focus on problem solving, reasoning and modeling; multiple-choice questions with more than one correct response; and other type of items that we teachers never saw on a test when we were students.

That’s why we do have to focus on test-taking strategies for students, and I feel better about it when I remember that we are teaching them about problem solving, reasoning and modeling. For that reason, I am want to explore math test-taking strategies for elementary and middle school students.

Math Test-Taking Strategies for Students

Within each strategy, you will find downloads and other resources you can use in your classroom or bring to a professional development session or team meeting with your colleagues. Each of the downloads can be found in my FREE Math Test-Taking Strategies Kit.

The Math Test-Taking Strategies Kit is filled with resources to help your elementary students answer various question types and manage test anxiety. The printable worksheets included in the kit will address:

1. Multiple-Choice Items

2. Multiple-Response Questions

3. Constructed (Open) Response Items

4. Managing Test-Taking Anxiety

Math Test-Taking Strategies for Elementary Students (2)

1. Math Multiple-Choice Test-Taking Strategies

Today’s multiple-choice items are much more sophisticated than those most of us took as students. Certainly, the standard strategies apply to that we learned:

  • Underline important words

  • Restate the question in your own words

  • Reread the test item, including all answer choices

  • Analyze and eliminate answer choices

  • Check your answer in the context of the problem

A great mnemonic for these standard strategies is RELAX!

Read and re-read the question carefully.

Examine every answer before choosing one.

Look for information in tables, graphs, and charts.

Always check your work!

X-out answers you know are incorrect.

I've created a R.E.L.A.X. Math Multiple-Choice Strategies Poster you can download and hang in the classroom.

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2. Multiple-Response Questions

Math-multiple-response questions, also known as multi-select items, are common on state standardized tests. These questions are formatted similar to multiple-choice test questions, but differ in that they have more than one correct answer choice.

We must expose students to the new type of “selected response” multiple-choice items that show up in today’s tests. Check out my previous blog article, Trends in Math Assessment: Math Multiple-Response Items for a more thorough discussion of these item types.

One of the most important strategies for students is to pay close attention to the wording in the item stems as these indicate how many responses they should choose. These tiny phrases can be easily missed by students and have a great impact on their chances of correctly answering the question! Caution them to watch for phrases such as:

- Select the three correct answers.

- Which statements are NOT true?

- Select the two number that are not prime.

- Select three properties that describe both figures.

- Select each correct answer.

- Choose the one correct answer.

- Choose the best answer.

- Which of the following…?

I've created an awesome handout that will help students review and remember multiple-choice and multiple-response strategies. Its a great tip sheet for students to keep in their folders!

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3. Constructed (Open) Response Item Strategies

I have always called these questions “Open Response” items, but the more modern term is “Constructed Response” items. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, these item types focus on reasoning and modeling. If you are not familiar with how these modern tests are structured, I would encourage you to look at my previous post about one of the popular national tests. Over one-third the points for the test are devoted to constructed response items based on reasoning and modeling.

If you have not already done so, I would also highly recommend that you download constructed response items from past tests so you can see what they look like. The national tests (PARCC, Smarter Balanced Test Consortium) provide sample test items and practice tests. Most state departments of education also post practice items and past test questions. I like to use test questions from previous grades for my students. For example, I use grade three questions to train grade five students. It allows students to focus on the process of answering a constructed response question with math content that is easier for them.

Constructed response strategies for students include:

  • Reread the test item to identify and summarize the information you will need to solve the problem.

  • Use context clues to help determine the meaning of any unfamiliar words in the problem.

  • Make notes on the steps needed and refer to them as you solve the problem.

  • Analyze your answer.

  • Check your answer in the context of the problem and make sure you’ve answered all parts completely.

A great mnemonic for constructed response items is ACE: Answer, Compute and Check, Explain.

Download the A.C.E. Constructed (Open) Response Items Poster and Tip Sheet, and discuss each strategy with students. Give each student a copy so they can review these strategies leading up to an exam!

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4. Managing Math Testing Anxiety

I have received some great professional development at my school about helping students with anxiety. Various reports tell us that 15 to 30% of our students experience anxiety in the classroom. Anxious thinking restricts a student’s working memory and consequently hinders their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. There are many strategies that we can teach students to manage their anxiety, but the first step (as I learned in my training) is that we have to teach students to recognize that they are feeling anxious.

Once students realize they are in an anxious state, they can start to implement strategies to address that stress. Many of these techniques must be taught to students and you can easily find them by entering them in a search engine. We should provide test-taking strategies for students not only for content, but for their anxiety!

Strategy Outline for Educators

In the Math Test-Taking Strategies Kit I've included a tip sheet for educators that outlines four strategies students can be taught to manage feelings of anxiety that may arise during test-taking (or life).

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The R.E.S.T Strategies for Managing Anxiety Poster is a great way to remind students of the mnemonic for test-taking strategies they can use.

The mnemonic for managing test anxiety is R.E.S.T. is something I go over with students on a regular basis. Whether preparing my students for an exam or notice students seem anxious during a regular class period, these strategies are helpful to review!

Realize you are anxious.

Engage a strategy to manage your stress.

Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor.

Try to get back to work.

Math Test-Taking Strategies for Elementary Students (12)

Additional Test Anxiety Strategies

There are also several other activities schools can implement before testing that are helpful for students:

1) Enhanced breakfast provided in or near classrooms ensure that students have the opportunity to take the test on a full stomach

2) A twenty-minute walk around the gym—or outside if the weather permits—gets students active and ensures they have had a chance to wake up in the morning

3) A free write before starting an exam can help to improve anxious students’ performance. I was previously unaware of this strategy, but Beilock and Willingham advocate its use. They used the following prompt:

Take the next several minutes to write as openly as possible about your thoughts and feelings regarding the exam you are about to take. In your writing really let yourself go and explore your emotions and thoughts as you are getting ready to start the exam. You might relate your current thoughts to the way you have felt during other similar situations at school or in other situations in your life. Please try to be as open as possible as you write about your thoughts at this time. (American Educator, Summer 2014)

In Summary

We all have to face the reality of testing and of getting students prepared for standardized testing. Solid mathematics teaching gives students the foundation they need, but further instruction is needed in order to help students prepare for the various types of multiple-choice and constructed (open) response questions. We need test-taking strategies for students to help not only with the various question types, but also for students to be able manage their test anxiety.

The R.E.L.A.X., A.C.E., and R.E.S.T. mnemonics will provide your students with a way to recall the tips in this post. You can help your students with math test-taking strategies using the four downloads provided below and the fifth gives students strategies to manage their stress during testing.

Math Test-Taking Strategies for Elementary Students (2024)


What is the best strategy for taking a math test? ›

Math Test Tips
  • Do the homework assignments daily. ...
  • Write down all hard to remember formulas, equations, and rules as soon as you get the test. ...
  • Read directions carefully. ...
  • Show all work. ...
  • Skip hard problems. ...
  • Recheck problems. ...
  • Write legibly.

What test taking strategies should be applied to best answer tests? ›

Multiple-Choice Test Taking Tips and Strategies
  • Read the entire question. ...
  • Answer it in your mind first. ...
  • Eliminate wrong answers. ...
  • Use the process of elimination. ...
  • Select the best answer. ...
  • Read every answer option. ...
  • Answer the questions you know first. ...
  • Make an educated guess.

What are 10 test taking strategies? ›

Test-taking tips: Test preparation
  • Take detailed notes. ...
  • Find a comfortable place to study. ...
  • Study early and often. ...
  • Form a study group. ...
  • Prioritize sleep. ...
  • Arrive early to the test site. ...
  • Wear a watch. ...
  • Read over the exam first.
May 17, 2023

How to get 100% on every math test? ›

5 Proven Tips on How to Score 100 Marks in Math Exams
  1. Strategizing and Time Management. ...
  2. Practice With Mock Tests. ...
  3. Create a Formula Notebook. ...
  4. Positive Attitude. ...
  5. Strategies to Follow During the Exam.
Mar 29, 2022

What are three things you currently do to effectively study for a math test? ›

Review flash cards while waiting. Visualize taking the test successfully. During the Test Write down any formulas or notes you might forget during the exam. . Look over the entire exam before you begin.

What are 4 test taking strategies? ›

Survey the entire test prior to taking the exam. Take a few deep breaths and relax tense muscle - repeat throughout the test. Read directions carefully - ask questions. Answer easier questions first - this will help calm you down.

What are 5 testing strategies? ›

However, there are some general test taking strategies that will improve your chances of getting the grade you want on most, if not all, tests.
  1. Listen to the Instructions. ...
  2. Read the Entire Test. ...
  3. Do a “Brain Dump” ...
  4. Answer the Questions You Know First. ...
  5. Answer the Questions You Skipped. ...
  6. Be Sure the Test is Complete.
Sep 29, 2022

What are the five tests of a good strategy? ›

The characteristics of strategy as conceived by Porter are presented as 'tests' of strategy. Five tests of strategy are discussed—creating value, a tailored value chain, trade-offs, continuity, and performance. Any robust strategy is seen as meeting these five tests.

How can I improve my child's test skills? ›

However, there are key ways you can develop his test-taking ability.
  1. Optimize brain power. ...
  2. Encourage good study habits and challenge critical-thinking skills. ...
  3. Know what to expect. ...
  4. Look at your child's past performance. ...
  5. Provide practice opportunities. ...
  6. Relax and remain positive.

How can educators help students who struggle with testing? ›

Here are seven helpful tips:
  1. Prioritize classroom preparation efforts. ...
  2. Ask students where their fear is coming from. ...
  3. Keep things in perspective. ...
  4. Empower students with simple strategies to reduce anxiety. ...
  5. Teach effective test-taking strategies. ...
  6. Help students create a study schedule. ...
  7. Focus on the positives.
Jan 21, 2022

How do you get an A on a test? ›

Follow these study tips to make your best grade!
  1. Get informed. Don't walk into your test unprepared for what you will face. ...
  2. Think like your teacher. ...
  3. Make your own study aids. ...
  4. Practice for the inevitable. ...
  5. Study every day. ...
  6. Cut out the distractions. ...
  7. Divide big concepts from smaller details. ...
  8. Don't neglect the “easy” stuff.

How to pass a math test last minute? ›

7 Last-minute Tips for a Math Exam
  1. Time Management. ...
  2. Consider the Hardest Questions. ...
  3. Conceptualize the Answer Before You Write. ...
  4. Draw a Diagram, Wherever Possible. ...
  5. Think About the Logic of Your Solution. ...
  6. Be Wary of Rounding and Units. ...
  7. Check your Work Towards the End.
Jul 19, 2022

What is the best study strategy? ›

One of the most impactful learning strategies is “distributed practice”—spacing out your studying over several short periods of time over several days and weeks (Newport, 2007). The most effective practice is to work a short time on each class every day.

What are 3 things a successful math student does? ›

Tips for Success as a Mathematics Student
  • Attend class regularly and pay close attention.
  • Review notes the same day after class and make note of things you do not understand so you can clarify them during the next class.
  • Make time to study math every day. ...
  • Do not wait until a test or quiz to study.

How many hours should you study for a math test? ›

The general rule of thumb is that for each credit hour, you should spend 2-3 hours a week outside of class studying. For example, in a 3-credit class, you should spend 6-9 hours each week outside of class studying, and for a 4-credit class, you should spend 8-12 hours per week.

What are the three types of learners we want to reach with math strategies? ›

There are three common types of learning styles (some include a fourth) that we will talk about here. These are visual, kinetic and auditory. Some students will learn best when using one style while others may use a combination of learning styles.

What are the two major types of testing strategies? ›

There are two methods used in executing test cases: manual and automated. Depending on the nature of the testing, it is usually the case that a combination of manual and automated testing is the best testing method.

What is the least effective test taking strategy? ›

Which note taking method is least effective? Linear notes is the least effective note taking method and is not recommended because they tend to not have an organized structure which makes it difficult to see what is important.

What is test strategy with example? ›

A Test Strategy is a plan for defining an approach to the Software Testing Life Cycle (STLC). It guides QA teams to define Test Coverage and testing scope. It helps testers get a clear picture of the project at any instance.

How can I help my elementary students with test anxiety? ›

Calming techniques like using a stress ball or taking deep breaths can also help. If your child has especially bad test anxiety, they may even qualify for accommodations like extra time or taking a break partway through. Finally, encourage kids to remember that it's okay if they don't know the answer.

Why do some kids not test well? ›

Learning difficulties like ADD/ADHD and dyslexia can affect test performance. If your child studies hard but is still not doing well on tests, there could be an underlying learning difficulty. Your child may not be able to understand the test questions, have trouble focusing, or be distracted by other students.

How do you help students who don't test well? ›

How to Help a Student Who Doesn't Test Well
  1. Anticipate Hurdles. ...
  2. Remind Them That Tests Aren't Everything. ...
  3. Introduce Them to Test-Optional Schools. ...
  4. Tell Them to Reach Out to Admissions. ...
  5. Consider a Referral and Evaluation. ...
  6. Get to Know Their Interests. ...
  7. Help them Plan for the Future.

What makes someone good at test taking? ›

Research shows that what makes these people so good at taking tests is likely a mix of: Low test-taking anxiety which allows them to perform better in the moment. Well-informed schemas that provide greater context and allow them to make more educated assumptions (guesses) especially when the test is multiple choice.

How do teachers teach to the test? ›

The usual method of teaching to the test is to give specific information, then test it at the end of each unit. Typically, these are tests of rote procedures and memorized facts, rather than of understanding or logical thinking.

What is the plug it in test taking strategy? ›

This strategy shows you how to “test out” each answer choice by plugging it into a sentence or phrase. You can then cross out answers that don't make sense and find the answer that is the best fit. This strategy reminds you to reread the directions, a passage, or the answer choices when you need to.

What are five techniques to reduce test taking anxiety? ›

  • Learn how to study efficiently. ...
  • Study early and in similar places. ...
  • Establish a consistent pretest routine. ...
  • Talk to your teacher. ...
  • Learn relaxation techniques. ...
  • Don't forget to eat and drink. ...
  • Get some exercise. ...
  • Get plenty of sleep.

How do you motivate students to do well on tests? ›

Here are some ways to motivate them.
  1. #1 – Explain to your students why this test is different from the others. ...
  2. #2 – Plan some fun activities for the remainder of the day. ...
  3. #3 – Give your students little treats each morning. ...
  4. #4 – Use a sticker chart as a visual.

When taking a math test which problems should be solved first? ›

Step 5 - Answer the easiest problems first. Solve, in order, the problems you marked while previewing the test. Then, review the answers to see if they make sense. Start working through the test as fast as you can while being accurate. Answers should be reasonable.

How many hours should you study for a math exam? ›

The general rule of thumb is that for each credit hour, you should spend 2-3 hours a week outside of class studying. For example, in a 3-credit class, you should spend 6-9 hours each week outside of class studying, and for a 4-credit class, you should spend 8-12 hours per week.

What is the order for solving math problems? ›

To help students in the United States remember this order of operations, teachers drill the acronym PEMDAS into them: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction. Other teachers use an equivalent acronym, BODMAS: brackets, orders, division and multiplication, and addition and subtraction.

What is the correct order to complete a math problem? ›

The order of operations is a rule that tells the correct sequence of steps for evaluating a math expression. We can remember the order using PEMDAS: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division (from left to right), Addition and Subtraction (from left to right).


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