15 Practical Test Taking Tips

This is the second year my daughter has taken part in the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP). She took the Explore test this morning. The testing site was about an hour-and-a-half away. It was an early morning.

The benefits of above-level testing definitely outweigh the pain of getting up early on a Saturday. We’ve used her scores (even the lower-than-should-be English score from last year when she didn’t answer all the questions) in advocacy. She’s participated in book clubs, taken online classes and perhaps most importantly, she’s gained invaluable experience in how to take these tests.

test taking, gifted children

In other words, she’s learning how to take a high-stakes test while the stakes are low.

One of the questions I’ve gotten from parents is how to prepare kids for testing.

The Short Answer

You don’t.

Just like trying to prep a child for an IQ test, efforts usually backfire. Kids end up getting so stressed that they do worse than if they took it cold. It’s not worth it.

The Long Answer

I consider these tips on how to take a test, any test, not necessarily how to pass a test.

  1.  Instill in your child a success or growth mindset. They need to believe that if they work hard they will achieve their goals. Believing they’ll succeed just because they’re smart isn’t going to work because eventually they won’t know the answer. This is where gifted kids can crumble. You’ve probably seen this happen. It’s not pretty. Developing a growth mindset isn’t really test prep as much as life prep.
  2. There’s usually a practice test with the confirmation packet and your child should take it in the week or so prior to the actual test. Not because of the content but so they get familiar with the format of the questions. Test day is not when they should first see the kind of multiple choice or essay questions they’re responsible for. Fewer surprises mean better test takers.
  3. Send them to bed on time the night before. Maybe even a little early. Everyone does better and is happier when they’re well rested.
  4. Wake them a little earlier than you think you need to. Today isn’t the day for rushing around and being frantic. Lay out clothes the night before so you’ll know the lucky t-shirt isn’t in the wash. As you can imagine, that is NOT a good situation.
  5. Have the correct documentation ready. Is there a test voucher or letter you need to present? Undoubtedly. Put it with the car keys so you don’t forget it. This is one of my own biggest fears.
  6. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! At least on this day it is. The brain doesn’t function well on an empty stomach. No donuts.
  7. If there’s a break scheduled (and there probably is), pack a snack. My daughter took a half a turkey sandwich. That’s her comfort food and it kept her going through the second half of testing.
  8. Are calculators allowed? Maybe, probably. If so, there are strict rules for the type allowed. Read the rules and follow them.
  9. Have pencils sharpened and ready to go. If the test asks for #pencils, send #2 pencils. Pack a sharpener. And erasers that actually erase and not just create smears.
  10. Have them wear a watch. This is a big one. The tests are timed and there may not be a clock in the room. Unlikely but it’s possible. But maybe the clock doesn’t work. Or your student can’t see it from where she’s sitting. And the proctor forgets to give the five-minute warning. Empower your child to be able to manager her time herself.
  11. Educate your child on common test taking practices like answering questions they know they know first and then going back to ones they’re not sure of. Explain how to eliminate answers to come up with the best option. Test taking strategies are one of the best things they’ll get out of this process.
  12. If the test requires them to show their work, they have to show their work. This is a frustrating thing for some gifted students who just ‘know’ the answer. Sometimes you just have to follow the rules. Another important lesson they need to learn.
  13. When all else fails, guess. It’s better than no answer at all.
  14. Finish early? They should go back and take another look at their answers. Not necessarily to make second guesses but check to make sure they didn’t make silly mistakes. Like forgetting to answer a question. I know, that NEVER happens. Can you tell this has been our own personal issue?
  15. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, don’t put too much pressure on your child. Regardless of how they do on a test, any test, it’s still just a test. They’re still the same person regardless if they ace it or bomb it. They need your unconditional support not additional pressure. Most of them put enough pressure on themselves.

How’d she do? We won’t know for a few weeks. She answered all the questions and she feels confident. She’s good with that and so am I.

What test taking strategies can you share?

One Gifted Girl’s Experience with Sports

My daughter is many things. A gifted girl is just one of them but it is through this prism that we, and she, views things. When I talk about things gifted I use this prism. Including when I talk about gifted children and sports.

How She Sees Herself

My daughter self-identifies as a nerd and a geek.

Not as a creative girl. She has never, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, finished a school art project on time. But she’s taken up crocheting. I’ve got a lot of potholders.gifted children, gifted children playing sports

Not as a country girl. She loves the city and wants to live in a loft downtown. But she loves visiting the countryside. For short periods of time. Really short.

Not as an athletic girl. It’s taken a while to find her sporty side. It’s sports are a huge part of who she is but she’s given it the old college try. Here’s a rundown of what she’s been through.

Our Sporting History

  • T-Ball – She started just after she turned 3 and continued for three seasons. The first two seasons she cried at every game. Usually because she worried she didn’t have enough sunscreen on. You can read about our experience here.


  • Gymnastics – This lasted six weeks. There was zero way she was ever going to become inverted. Not even to do a somersault. She liked the trampoline and the leotard. That was it.


  • Ballet – Dang she looked cute! This lasted about a year-and-a-half but the logistics became too much for our schedules and she didn’t enjoy it enough to make it a higher priority.


  • Basketball – Her dad coached her kindergarten basketball team. She was the only girl and frustrated the boys didn’t want the team name to be the Purple Butterflies. The Purple Dragons was the compromise. She made it through the entire season without ever touching the ball during a game. She did shout from the court during a game, “Hey Mom, what font do you think they used on that poster?” They lost. Still a sore spot with my husband.


  • Swimming – Six months of private swim lessons = able to get face wet while wearing goggles. Called it a win.


  • Archery – Recently found lessons nearby. Bummed she didn’t get a bow for Christmas. Guess she should have put that on the list to Santa.


  • Martial Arts – This one has stuck for about a year-and-a-half but now we’re foiled by logistics. Hoping to figure this out soon.


  • Running – Took this up in the fall through Girls On the Run (love this organization) and she’s completed two 5K runs in the past two months. Took 2nd place for her age division. I nearly burst with pride.

A while back I wrote about how to recognize a parent of a gifted child and said you wouldn’t find them at soccer games.

Well, of course some gifted kids play soccer, or football, or lacrosse. Just like I’m sure there are some kids who identify as athletes who also happen to compete in chess tournaments.

Just because sports isn’t a high priority for a kid doesn’t mean that they don’t play sports. For my daughter, like many kids, gifted or not, it’s just one facet (and maybe not a very big one) of who they are.

So maybe you will find the parent of a gifted kid at a soccer game. Or at the cheering at the finish line of a 5K run.


The False Hope of Differentiation for Gifted Students

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If you haven’t read James R. Delisle’s article, Differentiation Doesn’t Work in EdWeek go read it when you’re done here. The link is at the bottom of the page.

The first time I heard the term differentiation as it relates to gifted education was when my daughter was still in pre-school. We knew she was gifted because we’d had her tested when she was three and were beginning to think about schooling options.

Differentation for gifted students offers false hope

Differentiation Offers False Hope for Gifted Students

A friend of a friend had a gifted child and she’d been down this path a few years before. We met over coffee (her) and Diet Coke (me) and I heard her story. It’s a familiar one to me now but then it was all so brand new. Gifted child who isn’t having needs met in school. By now we all know the drill.

She’s the one who clued me in on some key terms I should become familiar with as I began my search for an appropriate school.

“Make sure there is differentiation for gifted students in the classroom. That means they’ll meet each student where they are so they’re learning at their own pace.”

It was like being given the secret password to making sure your gifted student is adequately served in a mainstream classroom. Sweet! My hopes of not having to worry about my daughter’s educational needs were on the verge of being fulfilled.

I had bought into the false hope of differentiation.

When my daughter started school I really thought this whole differentiation thing would be THE answer. There would be no need for an expensive private school because the public school principal assured me that all the teachers differentiated the curriculum. The professionals had this all under control.

I can hear you chuckling but I believed.

And then it didn’t happen.

I suspect (know) that we had it easier than many others. I’ve heard the horror stories and this isn’t one of them. Our story is merely disappointing and frustrating. My daughter did benefit from subject acceleration. She was double-promoted (grade skipped). She attends a pull-out gifted program once a week. She’s used GiftedandTalented.com for math, well it was EPGY back then, as subject enrichment. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, enough.

Who’s to Blame?

The thing is, I don’t blame the teachers. I’ve been in charge of a bunch of kids before and it seems I spent the bulk of my time just putting out fires. Figuratively, not literally. But remember, I’m not a professional teacher or child wrangler. So when I hear that teachers can’t develop individual learning plans that fit the wide range of abilities they find in their classrooms, I get it.

I don’t expect teachers who have no training identifying gifted children to realize that the quiet boy in the back row or the girl who can’t still may need a differentiated curriculum. Not all wiggly kids have ADHD and not all straight-A students are gifted. My point is, teachers need more training in knowing what gifted is when they see it.

I don’t expect teachers who have zero training in how to serve gifted children to know how to provide meaningful learning opportunities for them. Once they know who the gifted students are they have to know how to serve them. Those extra worksheets don’t count. They can’t rely on those pull-out gifted programs to provide 100% of what these kids need.

I really don’t expect teachers who have to be concerned about the hungry kids, the ill-cared for kids, the kids in the margins of society and the margins of their classrooms to recognize that maybe that one gifted kid in the class is bored out of her ever-loving skull.

Because, reality.

If all the education theorists and all the classroom teachers can’t figure out how to make differentiation work I’m not sure I can do any better. But, maybe there could be some baby steps…

  • Take a chance and group the gifted kids/high-achieving kids together. Doesn’t cost anything and you’d have some pretty happy kids.


  • Spend less time raising the bottom of the class and just a little more time letting the top of the class fly. I really believe that all kids will surprise you when expectations are reasonably high. Set the bar higher for those who show high potential. They just might amaze you.


  • Use some of those standardized tests to justify moving kids more quickly through the curriculum. If a student is several grade levels beyond everyone else in math or reading/comprehension my guess is that they can absorb information more quickly than the slowest member of the classroom. Keeping them to the same on the same schedule seems grossly unfair.

I know, I know. There are a bazillion factors I’m not considering. I’m just considering what’s best for my child because someone has to.

Go read James Delisle’s article. He’s a bona fide expert and much more eloquent than I am on the false hope of differentiation for gifted students.

Have you had success with differentiation in the schools? Share your experiences in the comments or on Facebook.