When it comes time for standardized test prep, you’ll probably use a variety of activities with your students. While I love interactive test review activities, I’m also a huge fan of using traditional study guides. Sometimes you just need a simple, clear-cut way for students to review material!
Study guides are a great review tool to use for unit assessments and for end-of-year test prep IF you do it right. Here are my top tips for using study guides with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to review the Virginia SOLs.
Teach Students How to Use Study Guides
We have years of experience studying for tests, but 8-year-olds don’t! I find it helpful to explicitly teach the parts of the study guide, what it’s for, and how to use it. Without this step, it’s more likely to end up crumpled in the bottom of a backpack. I want students to develop good study routines and habits, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to explain this part.
Reviewing nonfiction reading strategies like skimming and using headings and bold words is helpful to make sure that students can find the most important content.
I also show students how to interact with the study guides. They can write thoughts and questions in the blank spaces and underline or highlight the text. You can also have them rewrite definitions of important vocabulary words, draw pictures to show examples, and list questions they still have after reviewing. They can even use the study guides to create flash cards or quizzes.
Make Study Guides Kid-Friendly
3rd, 4th, and 5th graders need study guides that are well organized and easy to understand. Section headings, vocabulary sections, and essential understandings or questions can be really helpful to organize the guide. I also prefer to stick with the same kind of organization for every unit so the layout is familiar.
Other must-haves include visuals, keyword definitions, real-world examples, acronyms, and mnemonic devices. You can even have students add these themselves!
Many of the study guides I’ve created have a good amount of text. I’ve done this so students have a one-stop, comprehensive resource to use, and so that any adults helping them can see all the content in one place. That said, it’s good to create a simplified version for students who need it.
Pair with a Review Worksheet
I like to give students a review worksheet to complete along with each study guide. Review questions are a good opportunity for students to recall content, demonstrate understanding, and apply what they’re reviewing. By pairing the worksheet with the guide, I know that they have something they can refer to if needed.
Incorporate Study Guides into Review Activities
Study guides are no good to anyone if they just stay in a folder or on a desk at home. I encourage students to take out their study guides and use them during our review activities. I’d rather they glance at the study guide than sit there for 5 minutes trying to remember an answer. If they have it in their hands, the better chance they’ll participate actively in the review.
One easy activity you can do is to have students use the study guides to quiz each other. It’s much easier to do this with the study guides in their hands than to brainstorm questions off the top of their heads. I’ve talked before about the flashlight game, which goes really well with any study guide.
Consider Handing Out Study Guides at the Beginning of a Unit
Rather than waiting until a few days before an assessment, I like to pass out study guides when we start a new unit. This is especially helpful for students who need more time and practice with the content, vocabulary, and skills you’re teaching. This also helps them to see they can study and review the material throughout the unit, versus cramming the night before a test.
And I’d definitely use throughout the year as you teach unit, not just at the end of the year when it’s SOL test prep time!
Send Study Guides Home
I always send study guides home with students. I prefer to have them do the bulk of their studying with me in class, but I also want them to have access to the content outside of school. They may want to review it with family members, a babysitter, an afterschool program, or on their own.
Pro Tip: Choose one color of paper to print your study guides on and let families know about it at Back to School Night. For me, it’s yellow. My students’ families know that anything on yellow paper is for review, so it should not be thrown out!
There’s no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to studying. Study guides are definitely one tool I recommend for your SOL test review toolbox. What other tips do you have for using study guides with upper elementary students? Let me know in the comments!
If you’re short on time, you may want to check out my study guides that support the Virginia SOLs: