Build Test-Taking Confidence With These 5 Words

Rebecca Leon

As spring approaches and we all look forward to the first green buds on trees and crocuses poking up from the ground, we know that something else is headed your way too: testing season. We often hear that a big hurdle students face is simply knowing the language of tests—the "instructional language" or "academic talk" that includes words like explain, describe, and conclude.

So I've dug in and identified five words (and some of their "friends") that appear all over state tests in grades 6-8. Of course, these are not the only instructional words your students will need to know, but here are the biggies:

It shows up everywhere. Support a claim, an idea, a response, an inference, a conclusion . . . the list goes on.

Make sure your students know this: When you see the word support, find examples in the text to prove that an answer is correct or true.



Sure, your students will be familiar with the word suggest in everyday speech, but are they ready to answer test questions that include it?

Make sure your students know this: When a question asks what something suggests, the answer is not stated directly in the text. You'll have to figure out—that is, infer—the answer by looking at clues in the text.



Develop is another all-star word of state tests. What gets developed? It's often an idea, but it could be a plot, an author's purpose, a theme, or something else.

Make sure your students know this: Develop means to build bit by bit. If a question asks how an idea develops, look for details throughout a text that add up to a big idea.



Students may be familiar with the word contribute from class discussions, but they may not be familiar with the word in the context of a test.

Make sure your students know this: Contribute means to add to. When you see the word contribute, think about how a piece of information adds to your answer.



Your students likely have a handle on questions that ask what a detail or an action or a passage shows. But will they be ready if a question asks what something demonstrates, illustrates, indicates, displays, highlights, or reveals?

Make sure your students know this: Lots of different words mean show. Don't panic if you see one; remember it's just a fancy word for show. Emphasize is related to show, but it means to give special importance to something.


I wish you and your students a calm and successful testing season! And I'd love to hear if you have other must-know test words! Leave a comment below.


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