15 Secrets: How to Improve Reading Scores on Standardized Tests

You’re trying to figure out how to improve reading scores on standardized tests for your elementary students.

You want to teach students how to do well on standardized tests, but where do you start?

Take a look at these real strategies to improve student test scores that actually work!

Once you put these strategies into practice consistently and strategically, the results will be amazing.

So to discover how to improve reading scores in elementary school, keep reading.

How to Improve Reading Scores On Standardized Tests

Implement the following strategies in order to improve reading scores on standardized tests.

They provide an action plan for improving test scores and reading performance.

1. Review the Previous Year’s Exams.

If possible, get your hands on students’ reading standardized test scores from the previous year.

Review those scores carefully.

Take note of patterns and trends that are consistent among learners.

Doing this gives you an idea of which standards they are strong in and which ones may require further reinforcement.

Take note of any striking highs or lows, particularly of any individual students.

Previous standardized test scores provide a decent foundation from which to begin planning your literacy block.

The reading objectives that your students didn’t do well in can serve as the target of your mini-lessons for guided reading.

2. Create a Simplified Scope and Sequence.

Conquering standardized testing begins with the mindset that success starts at the beginning of the school year, not a few weeks before the actual exam.

Most schools have a scope and sequence which can be quite long and wordy.

It can easily overwhelm, so take those objectives and simplify them (see simple scope and sequence template).

If you look closely at an elementary reading standardized test that focuses on comprehension, it generally tests a combination of the following literacy skills:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Character Traits
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Context Clues
  • Drawing Conclusions
  • Fact and Opinion
  • Fiction vs. Nonfiction
  • Figurative vs. Literal Language
  • Genre Features
  • Inferring
  • Making Connections
  • Making Predictions
  • Multiple Meaning Words
  • Point of View
  • Retelling
  • Sequencing
  • Story elements
  • Summarizing

Take the literacy skills that will be tested and schedule them in your plan book, each during a different week.

Some skills need more than a week, so consider that.

The scope and sequence is simply a guide to keep you on track.

The goal is to introduce each objective at least once within a certain time frame, say within the first two quarters of the school year.

In addition to introducing the skills, teach the learning objectives to students in different formats.

Take compare and contrast for example.

Everyone teaches the Venn Diagram, which is good, but students may have to compare and contrast in different ways like within a T-chart or simply by retelling the differences.

So it’s a good idea to use a variety of structures.

Take a look at the objectives that will be tested on the standardized test, and strategically plan your lessons around those targeted objectives.

Create a timeline, and give yourself a time frame so that you stay on track!

3. Spiral Concepts.

Teaching literacy concepts is an ongoing process.

After teaching each skill/strategy, sprinkle it into any lesson wherever it fits naturally.

This is often labeled as spiraling.


If the class is reading about finding the main idea, maybe too a story or book lends itself to multiple-meaning words.


If students are retelling the sections of a step-by-step article, that’s a great time to discuss sequencing.

4. Incorporate Literature Circles and Author Studies.

Ideally performed second semester when all literacy skills have been covered at least once, literature circles cover reading skills and strategies in-depth using a variety of literary genres.

Students participate in reciprocal teaching which is a great way for them to demonstrate their “expertise” to peers.

While students actively participate in these discussion groups, the teacher’s role is one of facilitator – taking anecdotal notes and assisting groups as needed.

This is a great time to observe which skills students are grasping and which need further reinforcement via guided reading.

See suggested literature circle roles.

5. Teach Using Novel Units.

In lieu of literature circles, novel units are also wonderful to target a variety of reading skills all in one place.

A single chapter hits SO many targeted skills.

It takes a bit of prep to plan activities and lessons around the targeted reading skills with a chapter book, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

To work smarter, consider collaborating with grade-level colleagues, dividing the work and then exchanging activities/lessons.

Choose books that lend themselves to a variety of reading strategies, especially those skills that will appear on reading standardized tests.

6. Guide Students in Writing “Growth” Goals.

What good are all of these strategies if there’s no buy-in or input from students?

At the beginning of the school year, talk to students about the importance of growing academically.

To help them visualize their successes and target their weaknesses, have them create academic goals using simple goal sheets.

If students know their previous year’s scores, they can base their goals on that information.

From these goals, students will know what areas they need to focus on in the coming weeks and months.

Revisit and revise growth goals every quarter.

7. Encourage Parental Support.

Parent support is a significant piece of the puzzle.

Back-to-School night is your chance to communicate the importance of the standardized exam and to explain the power of working together to help their child achieve goals.

Some parents don’t know how to help their kids be successful academically at school.

If this is the case at your school, share specific strategies that parents could use at home to support their child’s reading proficiency and test preparation process.

Parents really appreciate this information, and this gesture also helps them to understand the structure plus importance of scoring well on the reading standardized exam.

8. Differentiate Homework.

Based on individual student goals and needs, differentiate homework.

You may think that takes too much time, but with planning, it works very well and is very much appreciated by parents.

Not all students need help with the same concepts.

To manage, instead of giving “return the next day” homework, assign project-based learning activities that encourage higher-order thinking.

These homework activities/projects target a variety of reading skills and encourage students to review information authentically.

9. Strategize with Anchor Charts.

When you have a classroom full of readers who need your attention almost every second, you’ve got to have some help.

Anchor charts are definitely your co-pilot.

With the right training and guidance, students will use these instructional tools to support their learning.

Though anchor charts aren’t allowed during the actual reading standardized test, they’re like the training wheels students need to get going.

After a while, once they know concepts well enough, they don’t need the charts as much.

10. Read Books Aloud from a Variety of Genres to Create Shared Experiences.

Some elementary students have limited life experiences compared to other children in their age group.

Books are a way to bridge those gaps.

You never know what scenarios the stories within the standardized tests will cover, so exposing students to a variety of experiences helps.

Don’t live in a climate where it snows?

No problem, books can help you with that.

A cultural difference that’s unique to a certain region of the U.S.?

Books can help with that, too.

As educators, we can’t control what experiences our students have outside of school, but we can bring parts of the world to them through books.

These shared experiences increase their schema and prior knowledge which are essential for higher-level reading comprehension.

See a list of mentor texts for reading.

11. Use Test-Prep Instructional Strategies.

The Prove It reading strategy encourages learners to defend their responses to comprehension questions/statements using specific evidence from the text or prior knowledge.

Additionally, the Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) method is equally powerful and helps students answer questions based on their complexity.

The Prove It reading strategy and QAR method will help your elementary test-takers CRUSH the reading standardized tests.

12. Design Bulletin Boards Around Learning Objectives.

Strategically use bulletin boards as learning tools to highlight important reading concepts.

Encourage students to design and create boards that reflect a reading concept (or whichever learning objective you’re targeting).

13. Give Constructive Feedback.

For formal classroom assessments, share detailed feedback with students.

Constructive feedback encourages students to self-reflect on what they are doing well and what they need to improve.

This feedback also serves as anecdotal evidence that you can potentially use when drafting your quarterly report card comments.

14. Review Test Format.

Before the state test is administered, review the format with students.

This saves time during the actual exam because then they don’t have to use precious time trying to figure out the structure of the exam.

This step is especially important for grade levels with students who are being formally tested for the very first time, usually 3rd grade.

15. Deliver Good ‘Ole Fashioned Instruction.

Even with all of these strategies, nothing beats good instruction.

What’s “good” is subjective, but as long as you’re giving your best, don’t stress about it.

Your best has to be enough!

And this goes for the students, too.

As long as they are giving their very best, that’s enough.

Wrapping Up: How To Improve Reading Scores on Standardized Tests

Now you know how to improve student reading comprehension and test scores.

Boosting standardized reading test scores of elementary students is no small feat, but it can be done.

These strategies have proven to boost students’ scores, so integrate them into your instruction.

If you liked this article about how to improve reading scores on standardized tests, you might be interested inlist of reading comprehension questions.