"Testing season" is right around the corner! As we enter testing season, it is essential that we consider novel and exciting ways to provide students with rigorous review and preparation activities.

Research shares that too much time spent solely on verbatim memorization and test-taking skills often neglects high-order thinking skills, creative expression, and student choice in demonstrating mastery.

Avoiding "drill and kill" doesn’t mean cutting preparation for students; it means avoiding hundreds of test prep drill worksheets.

"Drill and kill" test prep can be thought of like a candy bar.

Consider the wise words from Ryan McCarty with the Teaching Channel, "Test prep worksheets are the educational equivalent of a Snickers bar. They’re a bad habit from before we knew better, in a nice, ready to go package, with the illusion of nutritional value. Both may temporarily soothe us and make us feel like everything is going to be okay, but in the long run they are empty calories. Once the sugar rush wears off, we’re in worse shape than before. Unhealthy, feeling guilty, lacking the energy for real change."

This is an accurate metaphor, as research reveals mixed results on the benefits of "drill and kill" before a test and after the test is over.

Students still need practice. Students will still need an opportunity to take timed practice tests to figure out an approach works for them. Students will need help applying what they already know about reading and writing to artificial testing conditions.

For more information on "Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)," visit the American Psychological Association’s page on deliberate practice; designing activities with the goal of transferring knowledge.

Here are my top three favorite instructional strategies to engage students in review of content concepts, processes, and ideas.


Fan-N-Pick is a collaborative strategy that can be used in the classroom to foster discussion and interaction between students. The focus of this strategy can be to review a concept, discuss an issue, demonstrate understanding of content, or share information about a topic.

Students number off 1 through 4 and each have a specific role in the group dialogue. The Fan-N-Pick table template can be downloaded by searching "Fan and Pick table template" on Pinterest. Watch an elementary school’s Fan-N-Pick in action here.

Quiz, Quiz, Trade

This cooperative-learning technique has students review information with other students by asking and answering questions.

Working with peers in a nonthreatening manner builds confidence, encourages greater participation, and results in more thoughtful discussions, retention of key content, and higher critical thinking skills. For instructions, videos and templates, Google "Kagan Quiz, Quiz, Trade."

Rally Coach

Rally coach is a great cooperative learning strategy to use to have pairs help each other solve problems in class.

In a math class, this could be used with any set of questions you would like students to answer. In an English class, this could be used with a set of grammar questions.

With science, you could use this exercise to have students help one another solve chemical equations. In social studies, you could use this to have students fill out a question set about the details of a historic event that took place.

Looking for some great videos of engaging activities in action? Watch Ms. Francipine use station rotations to review for tests and Ms. Guidice’s strategy of having students generate exam questions to prepare for an upcoming exam.

As you begin to plan for exam review and test preparations, be sure that students are working together, the review includes multiple learning modalities, and that they are excited about sharing and acquiring more knowledge.

As you pick review activities, consider: Could you imagine yourself enjoying the learning, review and preparation process that I am planning for my students?