“What do you want the children we are teaching in school to be like as adults?”

This was the question of Leslie Mann, a training consultant at the Teaching Development Centre asked the participants on a course. Mostly composed of teachers and parents, the room was abuzz with answers like happy, curious, passionate, resilient, empathetic, kind, creative, ability to problem solve, a risk taker, a critical thinker, a lifelong learner. At no point did anyone mention a ‘good test taker’ or a ‘top-notcher in exams’. 

This is what most people want for children, especially parents. However, there is a big disconnect between what the education community say and what they do. Children spend a lot of time focused on tests. The literature and research around test preparation shows that this kind of work has very little impact. In fact, some can even argue that it is detrimental in developing the attitudes and dispositions that the community wants education to promote. Fear of tests is real and undeniably tests do, unfortunately, have ramifications for the opportunities of children. However, it has been suggested that educators take a different approach that serves both the higher goals of education to put a capable, well-adjusted adult into the world and the more immediate goal of needing to do well in tests.

This is where effective reading techniques can come in and be a helpful tool in teaching children how to overcome their anxiety regarding exams. Below are some tips on how to make reading a useful ally in achieving both test-taking goals and preparing for life, in general.


  • Read. A lot. Children who read are exposed to a significantly wider range and greater quantity of words than students who don’t read. When it comes to developing vocabulary, it’s simple; you can’t know words you have not seen before. 
  • By reading whole texts, students will have a sense of how texts are organised and the kinds of features that they can expect. When they encounter a snippet of text on an exam, they can understand how this piece fits into the bigger picture and that gives them a lot of information. 
  • Reading supports writing. Professionally written texts are the best model for writing. Not only are children exposed to a wide range of vocabulary but also grammar structures, turns of phrase, expressions and a sense of personal style and voice. 
  • Use the amazing resources of your public library system. Let your child pick a book. Read it together. Help your child understand that they are in the driver’s seat of the reading process by asking questions: 

- Why did you pick this book/ article/ comic? 

- What attracted you to it? 

- What did you notice as you were reading? 

- At what point in the text did you decide whether you liked it (or not)? 

- Were they any parts that confused you? 

  • Use the text as a springboard for writing. Have them write a letter to a character or as a character or keep a reading journal. 

Sometimes, children are under the impression that reading is a tedious process of trying to understand a decontextualised piece of writing and answer boring questions about it. They don’t get to experience texts as a reader – as someone who has reactions, forms opinions and makes connections with other things they know and have experienced. However, with the abovementioned practices, we can help our children become better readers and test-takers. Ultimately, by instilling in them this kind of discipline, we also prepare them for other life challenges.