I know yesterday’s post was a bit melancholy, but today I’m all business. For the past week I’ve been teaching my students a test-taking strategy that I created years ago and found very effective. When I became a Reading specialist at the elementary level (after a six-year stint as a Reading specialist at the middle-grade level), I knew I had to break down many of my strategies to their least possible steps. The first year I prepared elementary students for the PSSA assessment, the strategy PCQC was born.
Based on best reading practices, this strategy provides a systematic way for students to navigate through any reading assessment. Thus, it is a practical idea—not just applicable to standardized tests.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:
P – Preview
Students carefully read all the text features (title, heading, sub-headings, sidebars, pictures, captions, charts, graphs, maps, etc.) to activate background knowledge and set themselves up for a successful read. In addition, students are taught to read each test question carefully. At this point, I only want the kids to read the questions, not the answer choices. Since questions typically zero in on important components of the text, this provides more clues to the passage, introduces names and places, and enables a student to know what will be asked.
C – Chunk
Breaking text down into manageable pieces is a beneficial reading strategy. Chunking the long passages offered up in many reading assessments, enables the reader to hone in on one portion, encouraging careful reading and self-monitoring. I tell my students to “Chunk with pencil in hand”. That is, mark up the text by underlining, coding, jotting marginal notes. Chunking the text helps students to feel confident and decreases the overwhelming feeling of having to read the whole text. “Just take one bite at a time,” I tell them, “You don’t have to gulp the whole passage down at once”.
Q – Questions
Ah…the scary part is next. Answering those long, tricky questions can be a stressful experience for many students. In this part of the strategy, students read the questions for the second time. I show them how to read each question carefully and underline what the question is asking. I make sure they circle key words like NOT (which one of these is not…) and tell them to number two-part questions. We practice paraphrasing the questions to help them understand what is being asked. From there, students read each choice carefully. Remind them that they are looking for the best answer and must read every choice. Then, they should eliminate those choices they know to be wrong and return to the text to verify the choice they think is correct.
C – Check
The job’s not finished! As teachers, we all know how easy it is for students to finish the last question, close the booklet and relax. Teach students to read each question again (yes, it is the 3rd tie they will read the questions) and then read only the answer they have chosen. Does it make sense? Did I mark the answer sheet correctly? If they can answer yes to both these questions, then they really are finished and can relax knowing they have taken a deliberate approach and done their best.