Be Prepared for SATs 2018
John Dabell, January 2018
When it comes to preparing for the SATs, what is the best way to revise? Well forget ‘bamboo revision
’, strategies like highlighter pens, re-reading and sticky notes. Why? According to evidence-based recommendations what really works is repeated practice testing, distributed practice and interleaved practice.
Prof John Dunlosky, of Kent State University reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies. He found that self-quizzing and asking lots of questions to check knowledge (particularly using flash cards) was really effective and testing more than once was important in order to retrieve from memory. Children should therefore try ten minutes after revising, a day after then a week later and also teach the material to someone else as this ‘Protégé Effect
’ supports recall. They should also focus on the things they know least well.
The most powerful technique was to plan studying and spread it over time. Teachers are often pilloried for starting SATs revision too early yet the research shows that distributed practice is what works so a January start seems eminently sensible prepping for the May tests. Spaced repetition works because it is effortful learning and so hacks into the way our brains function.
Interleaving and mixing practice by switching between different kinds of problems, questions and subjects is also effective and the research found that it had “relatively dramatic effects on students’ learning and retention of mathematical skills” and also supports other kinds of cognitive skills.
Other useful guidance is to translate the material in your own words and to link it to something memorable to make the learning sticky. Practising input is one thing but children also need to ‘practise output’ by rehearsing exactly the things they’ll be required to do on the day by doing timed test papers.
The learning techniques recommended aren’t a panacea but the research suggests that “when used properly, we suspect that they will produce meaningful gains in performance in the classroom, on achievement tests, and on many tasks encountered across the life span…. so teachers should be encouraged to more consistently (and explicitly) train students to use learning techniques.”
Learn more about what works and what doesn’t by reading about the research at Sage Journals
and Dunlosky's learning techniques in this article.
Five more tips!
Don’t linger: children can spend too long on particular questions, get bogged down, lose valuable time and lose heart. Remind children to skip and move on and circle any questions they miss out so they are easier to find when they go back through a paper. Children can choose which questions to answer first and use the order of difficulty to their advantage. Not all tests have to be answered in a strict order one page after the other. You may advise children to target questions with more marks first or go for the easier ‘one pointers’.
Be more Sherlock: for lots of questions children need to find direct evidence and refer to it to support their answers. Even for inference questions the evidence is in there somewhere so children need to practice looking for it and make logical deductions.
Underline or circle: children should underline or draw a circle around key words and what they need to find in a question.
Answer everything: time management is everything and even though children might skip a question, ensure that they answer all the questions even if they make a guess.
Always double-check: children who finish with time to spare and then close their papers can leave us dumbfounded. Ensure children understand the importance of ‘good housekeeping’ and why they need to check for missed questions and missed pages. Encourage them to read all their responses again check for comprehension, content weakness and careless errors.
Whilst content preparation and proven learning techniques are important to test success, attitude is everything. A huge part of SATs preparation is having a positive mind-set. If children believe they aren’t good at tests then they might actually perform worse. Research shows that thinking optimistically results in less anxiety and so a ‘can-do’ outlook and self-confidence really matters.