Test preparation is often used as an umbrella term that includes specific activities, including how one can become test-wise. Related jargon that test developers may encounter is identified in Table 28.1.

Some examples of test-wiseness strategies include those for time use (e.g., setting a pace of 1 minute per item on a 60-item test administered in 1 hour), error avoidance (e.g., understanding and following directions carefully), guessing (especially on exams that apply a guessing penalty) and deductive reasoning (e.g., eliminating options known to be incorrect, using partial knowledge to make strategic guesses). Other terms are further discussed in the section on focus and format of test preparation.

It is important to interpret and use the various phrases commonly encountered in the literature with caution. Such phrases as teaching to the test, measurement-driven instruction and curricular-reductionism are used differently by different authors and in different circumstances. Koretz (2008) noted that the first phrase, teaching to the test, is especially problematic, as it may be used variously to refer to (a) teaching specific items from a test (which is never acceptable), (b) teaching the specific standards sampled by the test (which is also not acceptable and likely to artificially inflate scores) or (c) teaching the curriculum that the test samples (which is always acceptable). From a larger perspective, test preparations such as these have the potential to limit the validity of test score inferences and uses (see Kane, this volume).

Table 28.1 Terminology and Definitions




Planned, short-term instructional activities for prospective test takers before test administration for the primary purpose of improving test scores. Activities that approximate instruction provided by regular school curricula or training programs typically are not referred to as coaching (AERA et al., 2014, pp. 216-217).



Longer-term preparation that includes one-on-one work with an instructor who profiles students’ strengths and weaknesses and targets instruction based on each students needs. Tutoring can have the look, feel and even duration of classroom activities. Therefore, in many cases, tutoring may better be described as instruction instead of test preparation (Allalouf & Ben-Shakhar, 1998).



Test preparation that may include access to information about a test’s instructions, time limits, item types and format. Gaining proficiency with test-allowed tools (e.g., calculators) and manipulatives (e.g., rulers, protractors) also is included (Allalouf & Ben-Shakhar, 1998).

Test preparation

Activities “beyond normal classroom instruction or study, specifically undertaken to (a) review content likely to be covered on a test and (b) practice skills necessary to demonstrate knowledge in the format of the test (or tests) anticipated” (Crocker, 2006, p. 116).


“Capacity to utilize the characteristics and formats of the test and/or test-taking situation to receive a higher score” (Millman, Bishop & Ebel, 1965, p. 707).



Tactics that examinees use to improve their testing performance, such as time management or the elimination of obviously incorrect multiple-choice options (AERA et al., 2014, p. 225).


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