The PSSAs and Keystone Exams are coming in April and May. Here are tips and strategies to help students limit stress and do their best.
Spring is a time of testing for students in elementary school through high school. This time presents assessments such as the PSSAs and Keystone Exams. Sometimes, exam periods can be scary for a student, and that’s OK! If you’re not sure where to begin preparing for these exams, a good place to start is to learn more about them, how to prepare and how you can test well.
What are the PSSAs?
The PSSAs, which stands for Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, are given each spring to students from grades 3 to 8 in Pennsylvania to test areas of mathematics and English language arts. Students in grades 4 and 8 take an additional assessment in the sciences.
For the English language arts areas, students will be examined in their reading, writing and comprehension skills. One of the most daunting sections for students can be the mathematics areas, which tests on numbers and operations, geometry and algebraic concepts, and more. Science sections include topics in natural and physical sciences, earth sciences and biological sciences.
These tests are administered for teachers to identify which concepts and skills are more difficult for students so they can improve their engagement with those areas.
“The PSSAs are a diagnostic tool for schools to make sure the curriculum is aligned with state standards, not a test to determine if a student is passing or failing,” said Sara Crawshaw, director of administrative services at Commonwealth Charter Academy.
These exams are part of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s core standards which offer a set of rigorous, high-quality academic expectations in English Language Arts and Mathematics that all students should master by the end of each grade level. The core standards are robust and relevant to the real world and reflect knowledge and skills our young people need to succeed in life after high school.
Generally, these tests can last three to four hours, depending on the subject and grade level, but timing can be flexible if a student needs more time to test.
Overall, there are three types of questions that students will come across in the PSSAs: multiple choice, open-ended and selected response. Multiple choice questions provide a prompt and then have a student choose one answer. Open-ended questions ask the student to answer the prompt and explain their answer in their own words. Sometimes students will be asked “why” in their prompt to support their answer. Selected-response questions have multiple parts for just one question, so students need to use context clues to answer the questions about the passage they just read.
What are Keystone Exams?
Keystone Exams are similar to the PSSAs and are given to high school students after they have completed select courses, typically in the spring. There are biology, literature and algebra Keystone Exams. They include subject content from history, geometry, chemistry, composition, biology, algebra and more.
These exams are included in Pennsylvania’s graduation requirements, so it’s important that students study for them. Students will have assistance in preparing for the Keystone Exams by their teachers who normally begin to familiarize students with tested content earlier in the school year.
How to Prepare for PSSAs and Keystones
Now that you have more information, you can learn how to prepare for these exams with some PSSA study tips! These tips can help for PSSA and Keystone exam prep.
But first, it’s important to understand how the test is formatted before you go into it so you know what you can expect. The English language arts section includes all three types of questions and will contain passages for students to read for some of those questions. It is important that the students attempt to answer the open ended responses so they can obtain some credit for their answers.
“Even if you don’t know the answer to the question, answer every question anyway, because you’re not going to get points taken away for answering a question wrong,” Crawshaw said. “But you’re not going to get any points if you don’t answer the question. So at least if you answer it, you have a chance of getting it right.”
The mathematics and sciences sections include open-ended and multiple choice questions. For open-ended questions, students can show their work or explain their reasoning even if the question does not require them to do so. It is important that students attempt all of the questions, answer every part of the question and to show or explain their work when possible.
Next, think about your areas of strength. Maybe you’re good at reading passages and using context clues to answer questions about what happened in the reading. But you might struggle with understanding math formulas. If you know that you might need some help with certain subjects, you can ask for help from your teachers long before test day.
Flexible schools like CCA can help individual students walk through areas they are having difficulty with and provide resources to help practice those skills. Practice can help you build your confidence in those difficult areas, and it’s never too early to start reviewing.
It’s also important to view the code of conduct for these exams. Electronics such as cellphones and smartwatches are not permitted during the exams. Some math or science sections don’t allow calculators and others do. Teachers read instructions aloud before starting the exam and before some sections so be sure to listen to them as well as read the instructions in your exam booklet carefully.
Other behaviors like sharing answers or cheating aren’t allowed, and instances of catching another student cheating should be reported to your teacher. Bringing notes to help you during your exam also can count as cheating so do not bring those to the exam.
Before the day of the exam, get a good night’s sleep. It’s hard to concentrate on your test problems if you can barely hold your head up because you’re so tired. You can set yourself up for a restful night by engaging in activities that relax you, perhaps like reading a book, right before bed.
Here are some additional tips to help you ace your exams:
- Eat a good breakfast. Start on a good note the day of the test by eating breakfast.
- Relax, don’t stress. Try to calm any worries you have about the tests. Stressing too much does more harm than good. Instead, have the mindset that you are going to try your best, you can do it and that you are going to give as much effort as possible.
- When you’re filling out your answers, be careful. Remember that you aren’t penalized for wrong answers, so take your best guess.Try every question, and double check your answers before finishing.
To do well on these exams, you need to focus and put time into preparing for them. No matter if you are in need of PSSA or Keystone test preparation, the CCA family is here to ensure that you have the support and resources you need to do your very best. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and good luck on your exams! You can do it!