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Pamela White, Ed.S.
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April 19, 2023

5 tips for families to help students with disabilities prepare for tests

Does your child with a disability get stressed about tests? Here are 5 tips to help them prepare.

Many students view taking a test as a difficult thing to do. When test day arrives, it can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, especially  for students with disabilities. Many students with disabilities may feel overwhelmed and defeated just thinking about taking a test.

It is important for families of children with disabilities to know what they can do to help their children prepare for tests. Being better prepared can help decrease test anxiety and improve a child’s test performance.  The tips below can help families help their children feel more comfortable and confident when it is time to take a test.

1. Understand the Accommodations in the IEP

The (IDEA law) allows IEP teams to decide if a child with a disability needs accommodations. These are adjustments in the classroom environment, or timing of deadlines, to help minimize the barriers for a child with a disability. Your child’s IEP team should decide on the appropriate accommodations during the IEP meeting and write them into the IEP. Some accommodations can apply to taking tests.

Accommodations are an important part of IEP services, and they can help students with disabilities to better show their academic abilities. So it’s important to understand the accommodations in your child’s IEP, and make sure they are happening consistently.

Parents and students should review the accommodations in the IEP, and understand how they are supposed to work and when they should be done.

If you do not understand any of the accommodations, contact the IEP team and ask for a meeting to review and discuss them. You should not be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand every accommodation.

Common accommodations for test-taking:

  • The test is read aloud to the student

  • Extended time to finish the test

  • A separate room or use of headphones to minimize distractions

  • Frequent breaks during the test

  • Use of a calculator

2. Communicate with teachers before each test

There is some important information about a test that your child should know before they take it. But many times they will not have previewed this information. That’s why it is important to communicate with all of your child’s teachers regularly and ask questions about each test given during the school year.

Good things to know and review with your child before they take a test: 

  • The actual date the test will be given

  • The skills or information that will be tested

  • The test format, or what it will look like.

Knowing ahead of time how the test will look is important, especially for a child with a disability. Tests can be made in many different formats. That means different tests can look different. A test can be multiple-choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, written responses, or a combination of each. If a student knows how a test is going to look, it can help them mentally prepare for what they will see on the test.

3. Review at home the skills your child is learning in school

Many students need added practice outside of school to better understand the skills they’re learning in school. Students with disabilities often need much more help outside of school than other students. As a parent, it can be difficult to help your child with school contents because of other responsibilities or not understanding the material.  An easy thing to do is to get extra help from the school if they offer after-school tutoring, or hire a private tutor. Of course, after-school tutoring is not always available and many parents can’t afford to hire a private tutor.

There are other things you can do to help your child practice skills at home. Sit with your child and review the homework and completed classwork that is sent home. If you are confused about any of the content, call the teacher, a family member, or a friend to get help understanding it. Many schools use computer-based intervention programs that provide at-home access to all students. These allow students to practice the math skills or reading skills they’re learning in school on a computer, tablet or smart-phone. Take advantage of these programs and have your children log in and practice skills daily. You can also Google the topics your child is learning in school. There are many websites and Youtube videos that can provide clarity, clear examples, and engaging content about the topic. (Try Khan Academy.) Extra practice outside of school can help strengthen your child’s understanding and improve overall performance. This will help them be better prepared when they see the information on a test.

4. Regularly Encourage Your Child

Students with disabilities often have little confidence in their ability to perform on tests. All students need encouragement, but those with disabilities need a little more. Giving words of encouragement often is very important, especially when it’s time to take a test. Encouraging words can help a child to feel good and develop a positive mental picture of themselves succeeding. That will increase their self-confidence and help them walk into a room ready to test. You can also leave an encouraging note in your child’s  backpack or lunch box, post a positive sticky note on the bathroom mirror in the morning, or even send a message to your child’s cell phone. This can go a long way, as children do better when they feel good.

5. Review Test-Taking Strategies to Use on Test Day

Using these strategies while taking a test can help students do better and be less anxious. There are several test-taking strategies you can share with your child before test day. It is best to talk about, and practice, test-taking strategies often in order to help students remember them.

Teach your child  the following strategies:

  • Read all of the instructions carefully before beginning each part of a test. If a test is read aloud, it is ok to ask the teacher to re-read the instructions as many times as needed. If a test is read aloud by the computer, students should press the replay button to hear the instructions again.

  • Look for clues to the answers inside of the questions. Many tests have clues to the answers in the questions themselves.

  • Read, or listen, to the questions before reading, or listening, to the passage. By knowing the question first, they can search for the  answer while reading or listening.

  • Read all answer choices before choosing an answer.

  • Cross out answer choices they know for sure are not right, and choose the correct answer from the choices that are left.

  • Do not leave any questions blank because a blank question earns zero points.

If families of children with disabilities know what they can do to help their children be better prepared for a test, they can help to decrease test anxiety and improve a child’s test performance.  When using these tips and strategies, remember the goal is not perfection. The goal is to help your child feel more comfortable taking a test, decrease test anxiety, build confidence, and improve performance to the extent possible based on your child’s individual needs and disability. All children, regardless of the disability, can be less intimidated by a test – and do better – if you take the time and effort to help them prepare.

  • Pamela White, Ed.S.

    Special Education Program Facilitator

    Pamela White is an Education Specialist who has worked with individuals with disabilities for almost 15 years. She facilitates special education programs for a Louisiana school district and serves as an Educator in Residence for the PROGRESS Center at The American Institute for Research. She is passionate about establishing high expectations for students with disabilities, developing reading skills, teaching with intention, and educators implementing high-leverage practices.

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