Research on Test-Taking Strategy Instruction
Two studies were conducted to investigate the effects of instruction in the Test-taking Strategy on student performance on tests. In the first study, six students with learning disabilities (LD) participated; in the second study, six students with emotional and behavioral disorders (BD) participated. All of the students were enrolled in grades 7 and 8. Their reading achievement scores ranged from the fourth- to the seventh-grade levels. Students were asked to take test-wiseness tests that measured their use of a variety of test-taking behaviors. These tests looked like typical tests that students would take in their general education courses with multiple-choice, matching, and short-answer questions. Students earned points on these tests according to the behaviors they used while taking the tests. The students’ grades earned on actual tests taken in general education classes were also gathered. A multiple-baseline across-students design was used in both studies with three students taking part in each repetition of the design across three conditions: baseline, instruction, and maintenance.
During baseline, students with LD in Study 1 earned an average of 30% of the points available on the test-wiseness tests. On their posttest, they earned an average of 90% of the points. In Study 2, students with BD earned an average of 32% of the points available on the test-wiseness baseline tests. On their final posttest, they earned an average of 95% of the points. In all cases, the students did not show improvement in test-wiseness scores until the intervention was implemented. When maintenance tests were given, students with LD earned an average of 85% of the points, and students with BD earned an average of 88% of the points as long as 12 weeks after training was terminated.
On their tests in mainstream classes, students with LD earned average scores of 57% during baseline and 71% after strategy instruction. Students with BD earned average scores of 57% before instruction and 68% after strategy instruction on their general education tests. LD students’ letter grades on their report cards in the targeted courses improved by one or two letter grades. Most BD students’ letter grades improved by one letter grade in the targeted courses. One BD student’s letter grade showed no improvement, and one BD student’s grade improved by three letter grades.
These studies showed that both students with LD and with BD can benefit from instruction in the Test-taking Strategy. Not only did they learn to use a strategy comprised of a number of test-wiseness behaviors, but they were able to generalize their use of the strategy to tests taken in their general education courses in such a way that their test grades and their report card grades improved.
Hughes, C. A. (1985). A test-taking strategy for emotionally handicapped and learning disabled adolescents. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Florida.
Hughes, C. A., Deshler, D. D., Ruhl, K. L., & Schumaker, J. B. (1993). Test-taking instruction for adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 1(3), 188-189.
Hughes, C. A., & Schumaker, J. B. (1991). Test-taking strategy instruction for adolescents with learning disabilities. Exceptionality, 2, 205-221.
Hughes, C. A., & Schumaker, J. B. (1991). Reflections on “Test-taking strategy instruction for adolescents with learning disabilities.” Exceptionality, 2, 237-242.
Lancaster, P. E., Lancaster, S. J., Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (2006). The Efficacy of an Interactive Hypermedia Program for Teaching a Test-Taking Strategy to Students with High-Incidence Disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 21(2).
Holzer, M. L., Madaus, J. W., Bray, M. A., & Kehle, T. J. (2009). The Test?Taking Strategy Intervention for College Students with Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 24(1), 44-56.
Songlee, D., Miller, S. P., Tincani, M., Sileo, N. M., & Perkins, P. G. (2008). Effects of test-taking strategy instruction on high-functioning adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23(4), 217-228.
Lancaster, P. E., Schumaker, J. B., Lancaster, S. J., & Deshler, D. D. (2009). Effects of a computerized program on use of the test-taking strategy by secondary students with disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(3), 165-179.
Kretlow, A. G., Lo, Y. Y., White, R. B., & Jordan, L. (2008). Teaching test-taking strategies to improve the academic achievement of students with mild mental disabilities. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 43(3), 397.
Haynes, P. (2011). The effect of test-wiseness on self-efficacy and mathematic performance of middle school students with learning disabilities. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation.) Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.
About the Author
Charles Hughes, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education
Penn State University
Research Affiliate and Certified SIM Professional Development Specialist
University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning
My Background and Interests
I was a classroom teacher for six years, primarily with students with learning and behavior problems at the middle- and senior-high levels. I also spent four years as a state-level consultant to programs for students with emotional and behavior disorders. After that, I was an educational diagnostician and mainstream consulting teacher for a university-based multidisciplinary diagnostic and training program. For the last 23 years, I have been a university professor and have taught and conducted research in the area of learning disabilities. I have co-authored a number of the learning strategies instructor’s manuals within the Learning Strategies Curriculum, and I have worked with the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL) for over 20 years. As a SIM professional development specialist, I have conducted over 100 workshops in more than 20 states and have made presentations and conducted training sessions in Jamaica, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and Sweden related to strategic instruction.
The Story Behind the Test-Taking Strategy
This was the first strategy that I was involved in developing and field testing. I had spent a number of years as a middle- and high-school special education teacher and always felt that I was not doing all that I could to help students succeed outside my classroom. When I became a doctoral student at the University of Florida in the early 80’s, I began to read about the work of the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (then called the Institute for Research in Learning Disabilities). I contacted Jean Schumaker and Don Deshler about coming to Kansas to spend time with them to learn more about strategic instruction. During that visit, we met a number of times and through those meetings we began to develop the Test-Taking Strategy. I was immediately attracted to this topic because I knew many students dreaded taking classroom tests, to some extent because they had no planful way to take them. I knew that many successful students have developed “test-wiseness” skills to increase their scores independent of how well they knew the material. We felt ‘our’ students could also benefit from learning these skills, and we were right! Students’ test scores increased after learning the strategy, and students began to be more confidant and positive about taking tests. Of course, we always stressed throughout the instruction that test-taking strategies, while helpful, do not take the place of studying!
My Thoughts about Strategic Instruction
Based on my 25 years of work in the area of strategic instruction, I view this type of instruction as a key approach to the overall education of students with learning disabilities and other students who have difficulty learning. As a teacher, researcher, and parent, I have seen how much strategic instruction benefits students. Students not only learn these strategies and as a result perform better on school-related tasks, there is an overall benefit: they begin to see themselves as successful and competent learners. Another general benefit that I observe is that strategic instruction gives students a way of starting tasks and working their way through them. I often observed students just sitting at their desks looking at the assignment, test, or reading selection not knowing how or where to begin. Strategies are a concrete way of getting started and systematically solving problems and completing tasks. Not a small accomplishment!
Student and Teacher Feedback on the Test-Taking Strategy
I have taught several groups of students the Test-Taking Strategy, and while some are reticent initially, almost all have said that they are glad they learned it and that they use it every time they take a test. They seem to especially like the guessing strategies, which is great, but again I always remind them that guessing should be the last resort.
Teachers seem to like the strategy, too. Many report teaching this strategy first to get the students to “buy in” to strategy instruction. I think there are other strategies in the curriculum that have larger academic impacts for students, but there is something to be said for motivation, too!
My Contact Information
Please contact me at CAH14@psu.edu