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Test Prep in Dual Language Immersion

State tests are coming up in a few months, and there are certain test sophistication strategies that are best taught long before stress levels reach peak activity; when there is still time to learn. How good of a test taker are you? How about your students? I used to be a very good student, and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad test takerThat’s because mastering the content and taking a test are two completely different things.  

In high school, I experienced this gap between knowledge and application first hand. I had spent the last six years studying Math in French. My senior year of high school, I took the SATs cold; my parents and I had no idea you were supposed to prepare for them. Knowing it was almost all multiple choice, we assumed it would be far easier than French open-ended answer tests. Given that French is my native tongue, doing not-so-well on the English part was acceptable. But as soon as I finished the Math part, I knew I had done poorly. I was the top student in my class in Math that year, but I wasn’t confident in many of my answers, not to mention I had left a whole bunch of questions unanswered. It was a disaster; I felt crushed. In fact, as a result, I never applied for college in the States. Merci McGill University who welcomed me without the need for standardized test scores!

Years later, 8 to be exact, I was getting ready to take my teacher certification tests in New York City. Thinking back to the last time I took a standardized test, I was in full blown panic mode. I reached out to teacher friends, and learned some of the best tips from them because they were preparing their students for the State tests! I applied these same test sophistication strategies, and low and behold, I got perfect scores on all teacher tests. From that point on, I knew that I would never let my students down when it came to standardized tests. It wasn’t enough to transfer content knowledge and skills, I needed to teach test taking strategies so my students didn’t make the same mistakes as me.

Test Sophistication Strategies

What are test sophistication strategies? Test sophistication strategies are strategies that students can apply based on their knowledge of a test’s format and design. They don’t necessarily apply to other tests or quizzes that a student takes in class. Instead, these strategies are pertinent specifically to standardized tests because of their format (multiple choice questions, two texts, multi-step directions…), and their tricky, sometimes misleading design (distractors, two possible answers where one is slightly more accurate…). 

By teaching a student how a test is built, you help them understand what test makers look for. Now, let’s take this a step further. What if you also taught your students how they can recognize and overcome the tricky elements of standardized tests? That’s what test sophistication strategies are about: teaching students to know how to approach certain questions.  

I have identified six different test sophistication strategies. Some can be applied to both English Language Arts and Math, others are only applicable to one or the other.

Here is a summary of these test taking strategies. They can be taught over the course of just ten separate lessons. No need to burden students with week long test prep sessions!

Jail the Detail

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Jail the Detail. I love this strategy because it teaches students how to pay very close attention to word choice. I use Jail the Detail in two different ways depending on the subject. In Math, I apply it exclusively to the words used within the question. However, in ELA, it’s applicable to both the wording in questions, and the text(s). Jailing the Detail involves identifying details in the text that support and help determine an answer. 

Why “Jail the Detail”?  
Because it’s catchy and easy to remember. It uses language often used in standards and tests: detail. It requires students to slow down, and think critically.  
What is the best way to teach language learners to apply Jail the Detail?  
Start in their native tongue. Once they get the thought process and have it down, applying it to another language becomes second nature. For less proficient students, focus on finding the details in questions first, and then in the text. If online tests allow it, teach students to read the questions before reading the text. It will teach them to be hyper focused and to search for answers as they read.  
Who does Jail the Detail benefit the most?
Jail the Detail benefits everyone, but there are two subgroups of students that can make especially great use of it. Entering to intermediate level proficiency students will benefit immensely from focusing on just a few words at a time instead of trying to understand the entire question from start to finish. Their initial goal is just to capture the gist of what the questions are asking. Students with less proficiency in English aren’t the only ones who will benefit from this strategy! I was a stickler for my super fast-working (and too often sloppy) students. It bugs me to no end when a student who is completely capable doesn’t get the answer right because they’re rushing to finish.  
How do you hold students accountable for using Jail the Detail?

Ask students consistently: What detail did you jail? Does this detail support the answer?  Listen for metacognitive awareness from all students: “I jailed three details: “____”, “_____” and “_____.” When done correctly, be sure to give positive reinforcement. 

Like all best teaching practices, it’s best when you can model these strategies within the context of a few test questions. I like to select test questions by contemplating how I can apply particular test sophistication strategies, and identifying which content-specific strategy I can reinforce. Then, I make a movie in my mind of how I’m going to model it from start to finish. Keep in mind, it’s okay to make mistakes! What matters is that you’ve rehearsed it a bit so you have a smooth implementation. Think aloud the whole time to show students what is going on in your head, and to help them emulate that thought process and think critically as they approach the test. 

See Jail the Detail as applied to Math!

I’ll be releasing all of the sample videos in a short Thinkific course in a few days. If you’d like to learn more about the course, please email, and we’ll send you the link! You’ll learn about the other nine lessons you want to teach to prepare your students (or yourself) for the test. 

Good luck to all of your students this spring!

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