Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test

“They know how to do that! They did so well in class… I don’t understand how they missed this one!”

We’ve all said it while pouring over benchmark data or last year’s scores. That sinking feeling of bewilderment at our students’ inability to perform on a specific test question is all too familiar. We know we taught it to them, and we saw them successful with it in the classroom and just for the life of us can’t comprehend how they could have missed it.

Part of this is simply understanding the language of the test. Academic vocabulary is huge. A student who understands the development of the plot in a passage can still miss a plot question on test day if he/she isn’t familiar with tier II and III vocabulary such as contribute, develop, conflict, or rising action. We need to make sure we are repeatedly exposing our students to academic vocabulary and teaching them use it in context during discussions.

Start With a Word Wall

Word walls aren’t just for little kids and sight words. They are great for showing academic and tier II vocabulary words as they are introduced throughout the year. It keeps the words fresh in the students’ minds, serves as an excellent reference, and empowers the students to use them on their own.


  • If you teach multiple subject areas, you can color code your word wall to categorize the vocabulary words.
  • Adding a short definition (or even a graphic) to the words helps learners remember their definitions.

word wall

Have Fun With It!

Turn vocabulary review into a station game! I love this board game from Upper Elementary Bliss because of the variety in ways that it has the students reviewing their vocabulary words. Using the word in a sentence, giving examples & synonyms, asking questions about the word, and connecting it to related words learned in class, in addition to simply giving the definition solidifies a much rounder understanding of the word. You can easily to adapt this game to your grade level and state standards by choosing the specific vocabulary words that you want your students to practice. (It comes with a set of 69 vocabulary words.)Vocabulary Game


Remember that word wall? Print off an extra set of the words from this game on cardstock and you are all set with the words to hang up!

Use Stem Questions Throughout the Year 

If you really want the students to understand the language of the test you need to be using it throughout the year. Not just the vocabulary, but the phrasing as well. Word your questions like the test to help them understand what the question is asking. You can’t explain it to them on test day, but you sure as heck can now.

Teach Them Strategies

Understanding the language of the test isn’t just limited to the words. It’s about understanding the way the test is set up and how to tackle it. Equip your students with the strategies they need in order to be successful test takers. Your students will feel most confident when they have a plan. Grab my free test taking strategies poster here.

Test Taking Strategies Poster

You bust your gut teaching these kids all year. Make sure all of the heart and soul that you and your students pout into their education shows off on test day by helping them understand the language of the test.

Have other academic vocabulary ideas? I’d love to know them! Comment below.

Tomorrow: 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

Check Out the Rest of the Test Prep Blog Series Posts:

1. How to Navigate Test Prep Like a Pro

2. 7 Fun Ideas to Up Your Test Prep Game and Engage Your Students

3. Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test?

4. 6 Amazing Books to Help Students Conquer Test Anxiety

5. Testing Treats and Motivation

Do Your Students Know the Language of the Test



I help upper elementary ELA and reading teachers like you create engaging and effective reading lessons without all the stress.