Focus and Format of Test Preparation

A number of test-preparation approaches exist. Some options include self-directed study through guides and related materials, activities integrated with educational or training programs, for-profit courses or programs and one-on-one coaching. Future approaches might use massive open online courses (MOOCs). Regardless of approach, test preparation is focused on three principal areas: test format, general test-taking skills and strategies, and curriculum (domain of knowledge and skills).

W J. Camara (personal communication, May 4, 1999) suggested that test preparedness occurs on a continuum, with a completely unprepared examinee on one end and a fully prepared examinee on the other. There are several learning approaches in which one can engage in order to become more prepared. From Table 28.1, these include familiarization, coaching and tutoring. The time and effort required of examinees vary across these options. What the examinee focuses on in each option can overlap to some degree. Therefore, it is important to clearly delineate the meaning of each of these options when researching or implementing them.

Simple test familiarization is not trivial. As Powers and Camara (1999) cautioned, “No student should take [a] test ‘cold’” (p. 1). The previously cited research by Schleicher et al. (2010) and Swygert (2014) supports this assertion. Allalouf and Ben-Shakhar’s 1998 examples of test preparation included the use of software, guidebooks and practice tests. Of course, examinees can engage in many of these activities on their own.

Coaching may have several objectives, including improving knowledge in a subject and increasing test-wiseness. Generally, an expert instructor facilitates the coaching, which targets a specific content area or type of test (Crocker, 2005). The duration of coaching varies. In many research studies, coaching is operationally defined as short-duration cram sessions.

Many students cannot afford expensive test preparation materials or paid test preparation activities. Are such individuals disenfranchised? To the extent that score gains due to test preparation are possible for any particular test, access to test preparation is a matter of fairness and accuracy of measurement (especially if score gains are due to factors other than increases in knowledge and skills). Even in acquiring simple test-taking skills, equality issues exist. Recall that Millman et al. (1965) emphasized the need to reduce differences in test-wiseness among examinees to increase the validity of score inferences. Similarly, Haladyna and Downing (2004) observed that even ethical test preparation practices can pollute data when applied unevenly. In college admission testing, discussed later in this chapter, unequal access to test preparation is a contentious issue. Ultimately, equity is a consideration in many aspects of test preparation, including access to current technology and the availability of assistive technology to examinees with special needs.

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