On the Road: 11 Surefire Strategies to Motivate Students for State Tests & A Critique of the Testing Machine

At the school where I used to teach, preparation for our state’s high-stakes test, the TCAP, was an all hands on deck five-week bootcamp like adventure. Our entire school ascribed to “What’s Your Why?” as the central question we used to motivate students. Every teacher had an individualized buy-in plan that included rewards, public/private data trackers for students, and frequent communication with parents. Every student was asked on a daily basis what’s your why, and the answer to this question was related back to TCAP success. Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.23.40 PM

Last year, my students were voraciously reading Divergent, which became a central theme in my motivational strategy. I gave each student a tracker where they measured their weekly progress on mixed-skill quizzes. I called parents every Friday afternoon when a student worked hard all week and performed on a mixed-skill quiz. I integrated the importance of writing in every field and every part of life throughout my lessons. I used data from our Mock TCAP to unit plan, and I used mastery from the Mixed Skill Quizzes to plan reteaches the following week. I wrote lessons that had question stems aligned to the state test and distractors designed based on what the sample questions included.

cogs-in-a-machineI used the same strategy this year. TCAP Prep time is the toughest part of the year for students and teachers. It is a 6-week, non-stop race. Getting students invested in their performance on the test is crucial, as are aligned questions, and annotation and elimination strategies dominate an ELA state test that relies on better/best answer choices. This year, my test preparation machine began to feel seamless; I had the necessary component parts to make all the cogs and wheels turn.

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TCAP Review Materials Sale

All TCAP review materials designed for 7th Grade Language Arts are 20% off in my Teachers Pay Teachers store through Thursday!

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Over 40 products from $1-$5 are marked down 20%. These materials are great for review during the last few days before the test. Materials include Scoot Games, Jeopardy Games, Mixed Practice Reviews, Quick Reference Notes, and more!

Multiple Choice Mish-Mash


Designing multiple choices questions requires as acute understanding of the standard tested, how to create meaningful distractors, and how to design questions that aren’t rote memorization or find and search questions.

In designing questions that are aligned to TCAP, I use the tests provided by the state as a starting place for designing meaningful questions and distractors. Take a look at resources for the 7th Grade ELA TCAP here.