Step 1 Before Reading: Identify the genre. Once my students know what the genre of the passage is (fiction or non-fiction), then they can make a plan to look for the elements characteristic of that genre.
Step 2 During Reading: If the text is a fictional piece, plan to look for elements generally found in fictional text: setting, characters, problem, attempts to solve, solution, dialogue, lesson learned, and other key events.
If it is nonfiction, plan to frame the paragraphs or sections of text. Then read to determine what that paragraph or section is mostly about and record it in the margin, right next to that portion.
Underline words that seem to be key words. Examples of these might be: names of important documents, names of events in history, accomplishments or achievements, etc.
Step 3 After Reading: This part takes place once the student has finished reading the passage, is are now looking at the questions. Teach students what key words are in questions, by showing examples of questions and determining key words together. Teach these examples. Words like when are asking for a date. Words like who are asking for a name. Sequence words are key: first, next, last, finally, etc.
Tell students that a "good" answer often comes before the "best" answer in a list of answer choices. Tell them that one major problem many third-graders (or your grade) have when testing is that they often stop when they read that "good" answer. Tell that these students usually would have chosen the correct answer, had they done one key thing...READ ALL ANSWER CHOICES. A good test taker reads all answer choices and continues reading all choices, even after finding what might be the correct answer. Then, since the reader has read all the answer choices to consider, the reader can make the most informed decision, and usually does much better on tests, than before he learned to read all answer choices.
Just as it was when I was a student in school, we still need to teach students how to identify one or two answer choices that are obviously not the correct answer choice. Tell them to draw a line over the letter of the choice to "eliminate" the selection as an answer choice. Elimination just keeps students from being overwhelmed with so many choices, and makes the chances greater that a correct answer will be chosen.
"Prove-Its" - This is my favorite thing to teach during this unit, because when the students get used to doing this with automaticity, it can really make a huge difference. For some reason, third-graders seem to think this test is like a science or social studies test taken at the end of a unit, where they must read material, study, then take the assessment, without having the reading material in from of them. To students, his often means "guessing" if they don't quickly recall the information.
I really try to get this point over to them...this is not that kind of test. In many ways, this is a test of how well you can locate information, not how well you can guess. They realize the difference when you have them read a passage completely first, then answer the questions without looking back.
Now, have them put their pencils away and give them blue or black ink pens along with the reading passage. Have them go back and locate the answers to each question, underlining the answer and writing the number of the question in the margin next to the underlined answers. I tell them this is proving their answers. Check together. (We always use red pens when we check together. Parents know I use colored markers other than red when I grade, so they can quickly identify what has been checked together for feedback, but no grade.) Have students notice if they did better the second time, as they went back into the text to locate answers, to "prove-it".
This "proving" keeps down the temptation to "guess".
Third-graders always seem to think they made a 100% on all papers turned in, and are surprised when they receive anything different. This is a hard concept for them to accept. However, if you do this above activity enough, they'll get the idea. Whether they accept it or not, if they will get used to doing "Prove-Its" on everything, chances are they will do it on your state testing and get much better results, than just guessing.
I hope this article is helpful as you plan for your tests.