Regardless of your stance on test-taking (i.e. culturally biased, inaccurate reflection of student progress, etc.), you must prepare your child for tests if you want them to have a successful academic career. In grade school, high school, college, and beyond, students need to pass tests in order to prove what they’ve learned. High school students, for instance, need to score well on the ACT Test in order to get accepted into a distinguished university. Wanna-be doctors need to pass the MCAT, and potential lawyers must ace the LSAT.

Test-taking starts now. It is never too early to prepare students for tests. With the end of the school year approaching, parents and educators need to take the necessary steps to help students test with confidence. By using the following tips, you can help boost your child’s test scores and increase their confidence for many tests to come:

Get 10 hours of sleep

This is the tip sent out in all school newsletters right before testing. However, it is also the one often overlooked. Many children can achieve higher test scores with a good night’s sleep. When children are well rested, they are more alert and cautious about look-alike answers and context clues. They also have the motivation to gradually pace themselves through the entire test, which is an important skill for tests with lengthy reading passages and extended response math and reading questions. Therefore, make sure your child gets at least 10 hours of sleep before each testing day.

Make them laugh

Especially on the morning of the test, have patience with your child. Avoid reprimanding them about misplaced school shoes or unorganized backpacks. Speak to them calmly. Talk to them about how well they are going to do on the test. Remind them of their past accomplishments. For example, you might say, “Remember when you got that A+ on your history report. You are such a good writer.” Such reminders will give them the reassurance that you believe in them.

Make them smile, or better yet, laugh. Some Chicago Public Schools require their teachers to tell jokes before a test in order to loosen the tension. Get your child warmed up by telling a few silly knock-knock jokes. Since you’ve already built up the importance of the test, knock off some of the pent-up nervousness by having them giggle it away.

Use test prep books

To help your child prepare for the test, you’ll need to know what exactly it is that you are preparing them for. Do this by checking out your local bookstore or parent/teacher store (Borders, Barnes and Nobles, Bright Ideas). Have store employees lead you to their test prep section. Many parent/teacher stores sell books filled with multiple choice and extended response reading and math questions. These test booklets often cite the tests for which they prepare students. For example, Scholastic’s Success with Tests reading workbook is especially designed to familiarize students with the format and language they will encounter on the Illinois Test of Basic Skills and Terra Nova tests. Talk with your child’s teacher for suggestions on which books to pick up. Speak with the principal of your child’s school to see if he/she can offer any recommendations or supply you with old copies of test preparation materials. Then use these books every night, and use the questions to create similar questions for your child’s personal novels and/or magazines.

Picking up on clues

Inference questions are questions that require your child to use the clues in the text and their prior knowledge in order to determine the most likely answer. For example, the text may state, “Walter’s hands trembled, and he avoided eye contact when giving his speech.” Based on this information, your child will need to figure out that Walter was nervous. Inference questions make up a substantial portion of critical standardized tests, such as the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). Thus, it is important that you ask your child questions that allow him/her to use the story clues and what they already know to guess the best answer.

Writing is the key

The Illinois State Board of Education has decided to bring back the writing portion of the ISAT for the 2006-07 school year. The same test assesses students’ ability solve math problems by showing their work and explaining the steps they took to solve the problem. For the reading portion of the ISAT, students will need to answer an essay question, citing information from the passage and using their own ideas to fully explain their answer. Therefore, get your child in the habit of responding to what they read. Some suggestions would include having your child write from the point-of-view of one of the characters in the story, describing their favorite scene in the story, and/or writing an alternate ending for one of their favorite books. When solving a math problem, have your child use transitions words (“first,” “then,” “last”) to explain how they solved it. Finally, encourage your child to use math vocabulary words, such as “difference,” “product,” and “sum” in their answer.

Test preparation alone does not lead to great test scores; good instruction does that. However, preparing students for what they will see and giving them the tools needed to attempt problems with which they are not familiar will definitely help them complete tests with a confidence that can attain nothing but success.