Thank you to the more than 5,100 students and teachers who took our March Survey. Our new arcade game, Test Drive is the reigning favorite with students by a large margin!

favorite gamesAre you including games as part of your group assignments? 81% of teachers told us they assign games at least sometimes with their group assignments.  And yes, we heard you: over 86% of you said you would like more games to assign to students.

Well, it’s about that time again: more tests, more stress.  Though we can neither prevent the tests nor keep students from fretting over them, we can attempt to reduce some of the stress the tests induce. What follows is some advice we’ve given to our own students, and have attempted to heed in our own lives. Feel free to pass this on down the line.

– Don’t cram. Just hearing the word “cram” conjures painful images that can be counter-productive. Instead, encourage students to review plenty in the days and weeks before the test. Of course, even the most-urged advice may not find purchase with your flock. We can try, though.

– Enter Sandman. While sleeping during the examination period is poor pedagogical ploy, it is imperative for students to get their 8 (or more) hours the night before. Additionally…

– Get moving. Students need to blow off some steam during testing time, so they should get some exercise. Not only is this good for their bodies, but studies show that it can help jog their memory too (pun intended).

– Food, glorious food. Students should eat a good breakfast and drink plenty of water before their tests. Avoiding sugary, high carb foods is good, and focusing on choices packed with protein is even better.

– Water, please. Hydrate in the days leading up to testing, not just the day of or the day before.

– Don’t get the jitters. Just like teachers, many students have massive infusions of caffeine each day. But they should avoid having too much of it on test day. Having the caffeine jitters can distract their focus and lead to a poorer performance than they normally would experience. Speaking of which…

– First door on the left. Be sure to remind them to hit the bathroom before the test. ‘Nuff said.

– Dress in layers. Ok, not the MOST important tip, but it often seems that testing sites might double as meat lockers.  If students have a sweater to put on- or a t-shirt to pare down should it actually be warm- they can help regulate their body temperature and focus more on the test.

– What’s the point? Be sure they bring plenty of writing implements. Two sharpened pencils and two pens? That should do, but have a few others just to be safe. After all, minds aren’t the only things that get dull or dry up over the course of a test.

Clearly, there are more tips, but applying these can help calm more pre-test nerves (for both of you).

kirbyAbout the Author
Kirby Spivey taught AP World History, US History, and many other Social Studies courses in Georgia. He and his wife live in Atlanta, GA. Both he and his wife still have nightmares about being unprepared for final exams.

Guest contributor, Erica Badino, is a writer on a quest to share her knowledge and experiences with students.

Essay writing is something students either struggle with, or shrug off like it’s nothing. I was fortunate to have the writer genes needed to get me through these academic milestones, but for those who aren’t born to be writers, these can be a cause of serious stress.

The stress doubles when the student is taking a timed test like the ACT or SAT that requires them to finish the essay in a certain amount of time. Fortunately, with proper practice and skills, students can learn how to write essays faster than ever before. Join us as we look at three tips for speeding up your essay writing.

3 Ways to Crank Up Your Essay Writing Speed

The secret to quickly written essays isn’t anything in particular, it’s a network of different practices and skills. It’s all about putting a plan together, practicing, and staying focused. Here are three ways to make that happen:

1. Put Together an Outline

Having an outline is key if you want to write faster. Going in without a plan will leave you open for writer’s block and dips in your productivity. I typically do all of my research and planning before a single word hits the page. This helps me gather my thoughts and establish a baseline for my topic.

Usually I focus on the points I want to make and write them down in sequential order. From there, I start with an introduction and then, if need be, jot down notes for each point on what topics I want to get into.

2. Practice Within Time Limits

Many essays are done within a limit. This is especially true of tests like the SAT and ACT. Writing under pressure isn’t easy, but if you can train yourself to do it, you’ll feel much more prepared for the big day.

The key is to not give yourself any extra time, and to work with a prompt you haven’t seen before. Recreate the exact situation that the test will take place in, and you’ll give yourself the proper tools and habits to adapt to the situation when it’s time to write.

3. Find Your Focus

Staying focused is far easier said than done. Consider these tips for keeping your focus intact while writing papers:

  • Accept distractions, and meet them head on
  • Stay where you are (in a test you don’t have a choice)
  • Practice in silence
  • Reward yourself when you hit certain goals
  • Take a break every 45-minutes
  • Edit when you’re finished writing, not during
  • Leave a note for yourself to come back later if you get stuck on a spot

These tips will help you better stay in the moment and avoid things that will hamper your progress and ultimately slow you down. Sometimes it’s okay to come back to something later, or leave the editing for the final read through.

Final Thoughts

Writing faster is hard to imagine when you feel like you’re doing the best you can. These tips will help you make the most of your time and ultimately write faster without trying. Learning how to harness the tools you have in front of you is the secret to success.

How do you write faster? Let us know in the comments!

Where can I find overall school usage data?

On your home page, click on the “Account Information” link located just to the right of your avatar.  You can even compare the below usage stats to last school year’s.

usatestprep-inc-online-state-specific-review-and-benchmark-testing-2-1You’ll have access to:

  • Activation codes
  • Total school logins
  • Teacher and student login counts
  • Completed activity counts (tests, games, videos, and practice activities) for all content areas combinded
  • Usage by test
  • Subscription details and renewal dates

Thank you to the 321 teachers who took our “Print Resources” survey last month. You told us your favorite print resource is our Quizzes. You also told us you like our Class Activities.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-10-54-28-amAre you using USATestprep’s Class Activities or Quizzes in your classroom? What about our Puzzles and Flashcards?  All of these standards-aligned resources are included with your school’s USATestprep subscription and can save you big when it comes to planning time. Give them a try in March!

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Start your engines!  An exciting new game has launched!  Test Drive is now available to play in the game arcade.  Costing four tokens, Test Drive gives students the opportunity to choose one of four characters (Tater Tot, Sasquatch, Naughty Chicken, or Penelope) and race around the track for a chance to finish in first place.  Turbo boosts can be collected along the track for an instant burst of speed.  Watch out for colliding opponents and sharp turns!  This newest game is tablet-friendly and sure to be an instant favorite.

What’s the old way?

Previously, a teacher could edit assignment settings here (multiple attempts, minimum score, retry missed items) at any time, even after students started completing the assignment.

Why was it a problem?

That functionality was plagued by bugs, not to mention some confusion — were all students affected or only students who haven’t completed the assignment yet?  What if the student has one attempt left and the settings are changed?

On top of that, it made troubleshooting much more difficult because what if the teacher changed the settings after the student finished the assignment?  We didn’t keep track of those changes, so there was no way to be certain of the settings at the time when a student completed an assignment.

What’s the change?

We have removed those three settings from the Settings modal.  So, here are the two main changes:

  1. If teachers want to change those settings, they must use the Edit button — but wait…can’t teachers only edit an assignment before any students have completed it?
  2. That is change #2.  Teachers can only edit those three settings if NO students have completed it yet.  That way, we can ensure that all students have the exact same settings.

Where can teachers view their settings?

To view the settings for a specific assignment, click on the assignment title.  We’ve added the selected settings in those details as a reference.

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USATestprep offers a variety of built-in accommodations on our site.  These accommodations fall into two categories: Benchmark Accommodations and Assignments/Projector Based Resources.

Benchmark Accommodations

  • Duplicate Copy – When a benchmark is created, there is an option to make a duplicate copy. This is a great tool to use to meet the needs of diverse learners.  The duplicate copy allows you to go in and change the test settings.  
  • Spanish Option – Questions, answers, and passages can be translated into Spanish.  If you select this option, the test will not automatically be translated for every student.  Instead, there will be a link at the top of the benchmark labeled “Español,” and if a student clicks on this link, the test will be translated.
  • Reduce Answer Choices – This will reduce the number of answer choices from 4 to 3.  It will still show all four answer options, but one will already be eliminated.
  • Highlighter – We offer a highlighter tool that students can use to highlight key words and phrases.
  • Audio Available – We offer audio recordings of passages, questions, and answers.
  • Eliminate Answer – Students can hover over answer choices and choose to “Eliminate” the answer choice.  When this is done, a line will be placed through the answer.  If a student hovers over the answer choice again,  he or she can “Restore” that answer.
  • Printing Options – Our benchmarks can be printed in larger font sizes and with a variety of spacing options.
  • Question Filters – When creating a custom benchmark, teachers can filter questions based on Low or High DOK or difficulty level.

Assignments/Projector Based Resources

  • Multiple Attempts – When creating an assignment, teachers can allow students to have multiple attempts to improve their score.
  • Minimum Score – Teachers can set a minimum mastery score on assignments.
  • Difficulty Level – Our practice question difficulty levels can be adjusted to three options: Random, Beginner, or Advanced.
  • Font Size – The font size for our projector based resources can be adjusted to be larger for students who may need this accommodation.

For more information on accommodations, please refer to this webinar recording.

    • In the past, teachers could select a different start or end date for assignments within a group assignment on USATestprep.
    • We are simplifying the Group Assignment interface:
      • Teachers will select one start date and one end date for the entire group.
      • The date picker tool is more user-friendly with a prettier calendar (updated for single assignments too).
      • We added a message next to the end date to remind reachers that assignments are available to students for 2 months afterwards.
    • If teachers prefer the old system of multiple assignment due dates, they can create multiple single assignments or break up group assignments into smaller chunks.
    • What’s the benefit?
      This change saves time when creating a group assignment and simplifies the interface quite a bit (no more date columns).  Also, the date picker calendar is more user-friendly.
    • What about existing group assignments?
      Nothing will be changed.  The exception is if a teacher adjusts the dates via the Settings modal (they will need to select one start date and one end date for everything), or if they click the Edit button to make changes to their assignment, they’ll have to select one start date and one end date for everything.
    • Existing group assignments will not be affected unless teachers: 
      • Edit the start or end date.
      • Add an additional assignment to the group.

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1) Click on the “Classes” tab. Then, click the “Create New Class” link.

class1

 

2) Give your class a name. Then, select the test(s) that will be used by this class and click “Continue.”

class2

 

3) Now you can add students to your class. As you find the students you are looking for, you can add them by clicking the “+Add” link to the left of their names. Student names will appear on the left side as they are added. Click “Save and Manage Class” when finished.

class3

 

4) Successful class creation will take you to the page seen below. Here you can click “Edit Class” to make adjustments, click “Password Cards” to print login information cards for each student, or click “Lock Game Arcade” to prevent students from playing games.

class4

Need more help creating your class? Be sure to watch this video.