Throughout the school year there might be times when your students are asked to complete a written exam task. Many schools administer written exams as part of standardized testing. Additionally, your students might also need to submit their writing as part of an evaluation such as the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam).
There are many things you can do with your students to help develop the necessary skill sets for written assessments. We've put together a list of 4 things to be mindful of while helping your students prepare for these written assignments.
Context is Key
One of the trickiest things about written exams is that the format often looks very different from how students write in school on a daily basis. Many schools, especially those utilizing workshop style teaching, offer days or weeks to produce pieces of writing. Often students will have many days to work through the entire writing process where they can spend ample time brainstorming, drafting, getting feedback, and using resources to help with editing and revising.
Going from that to a situation to being expected to go through the entire writing process for a given prompt in a mere 1 to 2 sessions, can come as a shock to many children. Understanding this change in pace is a big part of creating practice sessions that set your students up for success.
Because this style of writing can look different from the daily classroom format, it can be helpful to practice writing within these contexts, by getting your students accustomed to writing within a time restraint. Have your students practice writing different amounts over different time periods. For example, produce a paragraph in 10 minutes or write a full page in 30. It is also important to keep in mind that some of your students may qualify for extended time for these written assessments. If possible, utilize the help of learning specialists to mimic those scenarios.
Another thing to practice is writing from a prompt. Whether it is a standardized writing assessment such as the WrAP, or a written piece for ISEE, your students need to understand how to respond to a specific direction or sentence starter. Students these days have much more choice in their writing topics and may not have a lot of practice addressing specific directives. There are many sample writing prompts available that mimic the WrAP or ISEE tests that you can find with a quick Google search. It's also helpful to have your students practice both fiction and non-fiction prompts.
Structure and organization are the key to success on these types of written exams. As you know, your students will not have time for the extended writing process to complete this task like they do in a typical writing block. Therefore, creating and practicing a plan that includes how to quickly outline a structure will help your students immensely the day of the exam.
Whether your students have one session (ISEE) or two sessions (WrAP) to complete their written task, taking 5 minutes to prepare an outline can help with drafting and maintaining organization. The simplest and safest way to approach these prompts is through a 5 paragraph format: introduction, 3 body paragraphs, conclusion. Test evaluators want to see clear structure and that your students can organize their thoughts well. Often, those pieces with strong organization are marked higher than other pieces.
While clear structure and organization are important to assessors, elaboration and word choice are also important. You don't want your students to focus so much on structure that their writing sounds dry and lacks voice. Have your students practice planning for 5 minutes, drafting with clear structure, and then going back in and adding in moments of elaboration and detail to take the piece to the next level. Make sure your students have a toolbox of elaboration strategies for both fiction and non-fiction that they understand and can apply easily.
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