Tests and Technology: The Tools Your Students Will Need

Tips for teachers and students as they navigate the new world of computer-based standardized assessments.

By Mollie Moore


students on computers

How well can my students use a computer? This is becoming one of the primary questions teachers are asking themselves. As the years roll on and education evolves, the worry about the legibility of students’ handwriting on tests has decreased dramatically. Now, as teachers, our concern is shifting more and more to their technology skills because so many tests are becoming computer-based. Our learners' skills must go beyond being able to find videos or sources for research projects. They must be able to demonstrate their aptitude using technology. Recently, my school piloted a new computer-based assessment. Here are some things I observed and wish I would have known prior to that testing. 

1. Capital Letters

Much to my surprise, I discovered that some of our sixth graders did not know how to create capital letters. Because of cell phones, many young people believe that if they press an up arrow followed by the letter, it will become a capital letter. Unless they are using a tablet or iPad, this is not true. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the technology that your students will be using for testing so that you can teach them how to create capital letters, as well as symbols like question marks, quotation marks, and exclamation points.

2. Red-Squiggly Line 

Word-processor users know that the red-squiggly line means that something is spelled incorrectly. Teach your pupils what this line means so that they can use it to their advantage. One thing to point out is that certain test browsers may not have spell check, so they should not count on having one. However, if the browser does have spell check, this knowledge can be beneficial to your test takers.  

3. Copy and Paste

Certain tests will require students to copy and paste items. There are multiple ways to do this. If they have the capability to right-click, a box will appear in which they can click copy. Then, they can right-click where the text or picture needs to go and click paste. For PCs and Chromebooks, press ctrl + c to copy and ctrl + v to paste. When using a Mac, they must press the command key + c to copy and the command key + v to paste. Here is a good lesson designed to help you teach some of these skills to your class. Again, if you can find out ahead of time what kind of technology they will be using to take their assessments, you can properly prepare and equip them.

4. Select

A stumbling block for many students was the word select. In the days leading up to assessment day, let your test-takers know that this word simply means to choose by clicking on something. Hearing this definition a couple of times prior to testing may help relieve some of their confusion. Many kids did not understand that in this case, select was an instruction. Do not forget to review other testing vocabulary as well.

5. Arrow Keys

Believe it or not, arrow keys can be tricky to use on tests. The reason for this is if pupils select an answer and then use the arrow keys to move the page up and down, it may move their answer choice to the wrong spot. Students think that they are changing pages, when in fact they may have inadvertently changed the location of their answer. Test-takers may not realize that pressing the arrow keys made their answer choice change. Encourage them to use the scroll bar on the side of the screen. Using the scroll bar should eliminate this issue entirely. 

6. Scroll

When a test appears on a screen, the passage may be in one column and the questions in a second column beside it. The passage itself might have a scroll bar in the middle of the page, while the page itself has a second scroll bar, typically on the right side. Find some samples. Project them to the class and demonstrate how to scroll for the page and the passage. Provide time for hands-on practice to create a sense of familiarity. Seeing someone scroll does not always translate to having the ability to scroll. If the test creators provide a practice, be sure everyone has a few chances to use the scroll feature. If this type of practice is not provided, find something similar and let your kids scroll. Whether scrolling is on your particular assessment or not, it is a necessary skill for today's student. 

7. Indenting

Writing an extended response may require one to indent if he is writing a paragraph. Make sure he knows that he can press the tab button once or simply hit the space bar enough times so that it leaves space for an entire five or six-letter word. Knowledge of both types of indenting is necessary because sometimes one way or the other may not work.

8. Typing

In many schools, keyboarding is no longer taught. As a result, some young people must look at their fingers while they are typing. Additionally, texting and tablets may have allowed some kids to learn poor habits. Compound that with the fact that most students do not use only one finger at a time, and it's no wonder that it can take them a long time to complete a test. Teach your class to type properly—they will thank you some day. There are many typing lessons and programs available on Lesson Planet's website, as well as elsewhere online. Offer a few choices and let your learners use the one that works best for them. Collaborate with teachers from other grade levels, teachers from other subject areas, and the administration to see how this gap can be shortened.

9. Reviewing Answers on the Test

Many tests allow students to review the questions they have already answered. Discover if this is true for the test that you will be administering, and if so, the proper process. Pass this information onto the pupils prior to the test.  

Now you have some tips to help your students succeed with computer-based testing. As a teacher, take a few moments to contemplate these suggestions for educators:

10. Pausing and Stopping Tests

Prior to the test, find out how to pause a test for things like stretch breaks or bathroom breaks, and also how to stop a test. For tests that will be taken over multiple days, make sure you know how to stop the test for each testing day, as well as at the end of all the testing days because it may be different on the final day.  

11. Testing Tools

Testing browsers often have a variety of tools that can be used. These include things like a calculator, answer-eliminator, and viewfinder.  Become familiar with what tools are available and which of them you want the students to use. If there is a tool to use, be sure that your students will find it and use it. You can also be sure that some of your pupils will find the tools that are designed for you to use, not them. Knowing ahead of time where these tools can be found will allow you to know how your kids got to the tools once they access it, and how to quickly exit out of these features when necessary. 

Related Resources:

Test-driven Computers

Want to get your students interested in taking tests on computers? This resource examines the positives and negatives of paper-pencil tests versus computer-based tests. An awareness of computer-based tests can create a more-relaxed testing environment.

Mystery Message Word Processing

Not comfortable with using copy and paste yourself? Use this lesson to introduce copy and paste as well as capitalization on a keyboard to your students.  Walk through the lesson step by step with your students prior to testing, so they can learn how to use these skills.

Keyboarding Skills: Elementary

Seeking keyboarding practice ideas for elementary students? Here is a list of online games and lessons to help them practice. It also includes a poster showing correct posture while typing.