Creative Solutions for Engaging Test Prep

Ask any English Language Arts teacher to identify the absolute worst time of the school year, and I guarantee they’ll give you the same answer: test prep season!

Test prep is so dull that you might as well be prepping your students for a nap.

But what if I told you there are ways to spice it up so the test prep becomes fun, engaging, and memorable?

I’m emphasizing memorable there because that is the ultimate goal, after all. And studies prove that material is more memorable to students when it is presented in a new or unusual way.

And for anyone who thinks learning can’t be fun and games are mere fluff, I offer you this: Einstein once said, “That is the way to learn the most… when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

These four creative ways will help students prep for state tests. Kids will be more engaged in the learning process, and they’ll be ready to tackle any state exam thrown their way!

Gamify Multiple-Choice Reading Comprehension

I recently learned about this game in a Facebook group, and it’s such a clever idea that I’ve used it several times already!

Call this game “Prove Me Wrong” or “Prove  (your name) Wrong.”

I start by assigning students to read a typical state test-like passage. Then, one at a time, I put multiple-choice questions with answer choices on the board. I randomly select one of the options and then asked students to prove me right or wrong.

The kids have to decide if I’m right or not, and they also have to explain why. I have them write down their evidence, and I let them refer to the board with our text evidence stems to help them argue their case. So they might say, “I agree with Mrs. Buffet because the evidence in paragraph …” or “This answer is wrong because on page 3 the author states…” creative test prep image of escape room

It’s an awesome exam strategy game for a few reasons.

  1. The kids are so focused on proving me right or wrong that they don’t feel the pressure of getting the right answer, even though that is ultimately their task.
  2. They’re forced to think the answer through and provide text evidence.
  3. Their rationale has to be clearly communicated.

I wish I could remember who originally recommended this game! If you know, please email me so I can thank them!

Host a Test Strategies Escape Room Challenge

If you’re feeling a little daring, why not host an escape room challenge? Divide the class into small groups and give them each a puzzle or task that requires teamwork and problem-solving skills in order to complete.

I use Rock the Test, which is a super fun game that has students practice test strategies related to multiple-choice reading comprehension and writing.

When we created it, we wanted kids to have a good time while reviewing some general test-taking strategies. For example, we give them specific tips on how to approach multiple-choice questions, such as

  • Read and annotate the text features, including headlines, captions, footnotes, and other embedded text.
  • Annotate important words in the question.
  • Read all of the answer choices.

And more.

If I were to present these tips in an isolated manner, kids would be bored silly. Instead, they’re fully invested, because they have to utilize those skills immediately to solve a puzzle.

Escape rooms make studying more engaging, while also teaching students valuable collaboration skills that can be applied to their life way beyond the tests.

Create Quiz-Style Test Prep Games

Give learning a game-show twist by setting up quiz-style games where students must answer questions correctly in order to advance.

I break the class up into several groups. Each group draws a simple board-game square on paper, with boxes big enough to hold whatever game pieces we’re using. Fancy game pieces aren’t necessary. Anything works, even colorful paper clips.

I start the period by dimming the lights and waving around a couple of flashlights for that Hollywood effect. It makes the kids feel like they’re on a game show – who doesn’t love that?

Not only will this approach encourage your students to pay attention and think critically about the material they’re learning, but it also adds an element of fun to review sessions.

Skill-a-Day Bell Ringers

Finally, the most effective way you can help your students prepare for a state exam is by doing daily bell ringers that review key skills every day. These could be brief tasks, such as quick multiple-choice questions or bigger tasks like writing assignments about certain topics—it’s up to you!

I like to assign quick 5-10 minute bell ringers relating to one reading or writing skill a day, which is just enough to help students stay up to date on their reading comprehension and writing skills.

Skills we cover with daily spiral review bellringers:


  • Argumentative
  • Informative
  • Narrative
  • Summaries

READING SKILLS (partial list):

  • Central Idea
  • Inferences
  • Author’s Craft
  • Text Evidence
  • Context Clues
  • Figurative Language
  • Plot Elements
  • Evaluating Evidence
  • Genre
  • Text Structure
  • Text Features

I love this type of test prep, and so do other teachers who started using them! One teacher said, “This has been a lifesaver. I am using it as spiral review and it covers so many standards with easy-to-read text!”

Test prep doesn’t have to be nap-inducing! With a few creative ideas, you can keep your kids engaged. So let’s break away from traditional methods and step into a world filled with quiz-style games, escape room challenges, and daily bell ringers that review key skills in an entertaining way. Your students will thank you!

And since zero napping will be involved, you won’t get stuck cleaning up desk drool.