Much to their vexation, kids across the U.S. take a range of standardized tests throughout the year. In any given term, an elementary student will sit through at least one series of state or national standardized tests; in many grades, students will be tested twice or even three times a year. Does your kid know which standardized test is coming up? How well prepared is she to answer those multiple-choice items?

For many kids, not knowing the answers to those questions can cause serious anxiety, especially if the school district does a poor job of informing students of the types of questions, test contents and testing situations they’ll experience. Some kids believe that their final grades, relationship with the teacher or even worth as a person is at stake! If your child is in a school that doesn’t prep her well for one of these exams, it’s up to you to inform her enough about the test to alleviate her worries.

A word of caution: Although it’s great to give your kids enough prep that they aren’t nervous about what’s to come, it’s crucial that you don’t focus on it so much that they obsess about the scores they’ll achieve. An elementary child should never think twice about her stats. Those numbers are for parents, educators and curriculum developers to assess! A kid armed with a little bit of knowledge is confident — going into a test with confidence will help create a positive testing experience for her. A student pressed into achieving a “high” score is nervous — going into a test with anxiety will squelch her ability to do her best.

In order to prep your child appropriately, you must first get yourself “in the know” by understanding the test basics, format, content and practice materials for some of those major national standardized tests.

Popular national standardized tests

National standardized tests are offered both by governmental agencies and private companies in the hopes of helping school districts assess their students in almost every subject area. Reading, math, science, social studies, writing and more are all tested in a variety of grades in various states.

The following four tests are the most popular national standardized achievement tests for elementary students in the country. Although some school districts primarily use statewide tests to ascertain progress, chances are good that if you have a student in elementary school, your kid will be taking at least one of these national tests in multiple grades before he hits middle school.

Stanford Achievement Test Series (SAT-10)

The basics

Pearson Assessments’ 10th addition of the is a battery of exams for students from kindergarten through grade 12. It is administered in both the fall and spring in some school districts.

The test format

– Multiple choice

– Could be taken online or on paper depending on your school’s purchase

– Tests range from 15 minutes to 50 minutes (the longer tests generally taken by higher grades)

The test content

Depending on what your child’s school district has selected, she could be taking tests in any of these subject areas:

– Reading

– Mathematics

– Listening

– Language

– Spelling

– Science

– Social science

Preparing your child

Pearson Assessments offers districts Preview for Parents, which provides brief descriptions and a handful of practice questions for each content area. After the test, you can also view the, which allows you to compare your child’s scores to norms across the country and read brief guidelines for improving areas in which your child may have struggled.

If you’d like even further practice, or didn’t receive a practice booklet, SAT-10 practice booklets are available for purchase through, a reputable educational publisher.

Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS)

The basics

Riverside Publishing’s are not just for students in Iowa! In both the fall and spring, students from all over the U.S. take these tests in grades K-8 (levels 5-14) for various subjects.

The test format

– Multiple choice

– Taken on paper

– 30 minutes or less for each test

The test content

Any combination of the following assessments is offered based on grade and district choice:

– Vocabulary

– Word

– Word analysis

– Listening

– Reading comprehension

– Language

– Math

– Social studies

– Science

Preparing your child

Riverside Publishing provides a pamphlet for districts to purchase called. In it, you’ll see info about ITBS test questions, formats and test results. If you haven’t received one prior to testing, inquire at the district office. It may not have distributed them to schools and just keeps a few on hand for parents with questions.

Again,  offers test prep for this exam.

TerraNova 3

The basics

CTB/McGraw-Hill’s own TerraNova series’ newest addition is the TerraNova 3, which tests students ranging in grades from K-12. The test was formed from updates on the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) and the California Achievement Test, 6th Edition (CAT 6), and it’s the only test to use norms from 2007 for comparisons.

The test format

– Multiple choice

– Taken on paper

– Tests range from 20 minutes to 70 minutes (the longer tests generally taken by higher grades)

The test content

Students in elementary grades are tested on fewer subject areas, but overall, the available content is as follows:

– Reading

– Math

– Language

– Social science

– Science

Preparing your child

Besides viewing the, which provides content standards, testing times and amount of questions per test in order that your child can prepare for the exam, you can purchase the TerraNova , or ask your school’s guidance counselor for practice materials related to the test.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

The basics

The Department of Education is responsible for administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress and gives the test to students in grades 4, 8 and 12. Groups representative of the population are administered the test periodically and randomly throughout the year.

The test format

– Multiple-choice and open-ended-answer questions

– Taken on paper, with some hands-on tasks and computer-based portions

– Tests range from 40 minutes to 120 minutes (the longer tests generally taken by higher grades)

The test content

Various academic subjects are tested, with more added as time progresses. Currently, world history and foreign language content is being developed for usage in the future.

– Math

– Reading

– Writing

– Science

– The arts

– Civics

– Economics

– Geography

– U.S. history

Preparing your child

You can download that contain sample questions from the National Center for Education Statistics website. In addition, more than are available for easy perusal as well. All of these test questions are free. Bonus!

Prepping your child for the test

Now that you understand the content of some of these national standardized tests, what do you do with your knowledge?

  1. Research: Figure out which national standardized tests your kids will be taking this year, and get your hands on some practice questions. Although state standardized tests, like California’s STAR, Florida’s FCAT and New York’s NYSTP, were not discussed here, there is a possibility that your kid could be taking one of these. Talk to your child’s guidance counselor to be sure you know which tests your child is taking and where you can get prep options.
  2. Reassure: Let your kid know that there is a standardized test coming up and the results do not matter, nor do they affect his life in any way. (No one will be disappointed in him if he flubs every answer, for example.) The test measures what he’s learned and gives his teacher tools to help his whole class learn better.
  3. Review: Sit with your child and go through a couple practice questions together so he’s ready for the test. Show him the difference between the questions in the different test content areas — i.e., reading questions look very different than math questions. Then, have him solve a few on his own. Praise him for his great work after he completes a set. Then, put everything away — no other studying needs to be done.

Although a standardized test can give your school district heart failure, it should be the last thing on your child’s mind. Kids have things like soccer and Batman and jump rope to think about! Prepare yourself so you can bolster your elementary student’s self-belief about the test, and reap the rewards of a happy, carefree test-taker.

Kelly C. Roell, M.A., is the author of an ACT test prep book that will be released in 2012 through the Research and Education Association Inc. She is also the About.com guide for test prep and uses all aspects of her master’s degree in secondary English education in her work.