Growth Mindset During Test Prep

We all need a reminder sometimes that learning comes from the struggle. When we teach students to push through, we teach them how to succeed.

I whole-heartedly believe that test prep should focus on learning content with a growth mindset, and not on achieving a certain score. Students will have less anxiety, learn more, and perform better if we take the pressure off earning a certain score and instead emphasize hard work. One phrase I always used with students is “Your score doesn’t make me proud. You make me proud when you work hard learning math each and every day.” Our students make us proud when they push through the struggle and learn new math concepts or persevere while studying their math facts to learn them all. Our students make us proud when they find multiple ways to solve a problem, and when they can explain their solution process.

1. Help Students Focus on What They Can Control

Students are in total control of their effort, their perseverance and their determination to learn. Emphasizing and praising the behaviors students can control helps to diminish their fear of what they can’t control……the difficult problems on the test. It also motivates students to work hard. Students work much, much harder when they realize that this is what impresses you. So many students give up because they think we only care about correct answers, and they have already convinced themselves they aren’t “smart enough” to produce those answers. By emphasizing the process, students feel successful along the way. This motivates them to learn how to solve tough problems while we work alongside them. We know that truly working hard is going to lead to amazing results in learning which in turn will show up in test results.

Emphasize Things Students Can Control

  1. Getting good sleep to help my brain work its best on the test
  2. Working hard to review for the test
  3. Working hard on the test no matter what
  4. My ability to use tools I have (scratch paper, grid paper, Reference Tools, strategies I have learned)
  5. My attitude

Acknowledge Things Students Can’t Control

  1. How hard the problems are
  2. The amount of time I get to finish the test
  3. The order of the problems (you may get hard problems in the beginning, don’t get discouraged)
Growth Mindset Posters

2. Talk about what Growth Mindset looks like during Test Prep

Use the first few minutes of each day of your review to talk about the growth mindset focus for the day. Start the day with it so that students see themselves and their review work through that lens throughout the day. Here are some messages to focus on. Most teachers set aside two full weeks to focus on test prep, so I recommend introducing two on the first day and adding a new one each day.

  • If You Never Try, You’ll Never Know
  • I Learn from My Mistakes
  • Don’t Decide You Can’t Before You Discover that You Can
  • When I Struggle I Grow
  • I Can’t Control How Hard the Problems are, I Can Control How Hard I Work
  • I Feel Proud When I Work Hard
  • The Bigger the Struggle, The Bigger the Discovery
  • I can Solve Tough Problems
  • Think Positive and Positive Things will Happen
  • I Won’t Give Up
  • You are Defined by Your Work Ethic, Not Your Test Score

I’ve created posters with each of these messages that you can download for FREE! The link is at the end of the post.

3. Surround Students with Growth Mindset Messages

Help students soak up the growth mindset messages that will transform their attitude and outlook on the work they are doing. Growth mindset posters are easy to hang on your classroom walls during your review to help students focus on the thoughts and attitudes that will lead to their greatest success. These posters can also be used as coloring pages so that students spend time thinking on and internalizing these messages during downtime or when they need a brain break from their review.

4. Have students reflect on how they demonstrated a Growth Mindset during their Test Prep Review

Journal About Growth Mindset During Test Prep

Ask students to think about how they worked with a growth mindset during their review time each time. If it is a day that already involved a lot of writing, I suggest having them talk about it with a partner and then their small group. Then pick a few students to share with the entire class. I recommend that students journal about their growth mindset at least 4-5 days during test prep. Formalizing thoughts into writing has a big impact, and it serves as an opportunity for students to spend additional time thinking positively on their success at pushing through challenges. If you have students journal at the end of the day, you can begin the next day by praising a few students and sharing their journal responses with the class.

5. Reward Students When They Act with a Growth Mindset during Test Prep

Reward the effort students are making using Reward Tags or Awards. Create an Award Wall inside your classroom, or in the hallway to recognize student behaviors and attitudes.

Award Wall

One year as a math specialist, We had a schoolwide wall and each teacher recognized 3 students from their class with an award every day. The awards were placed in my box at the end of the day and posted on the wall the next morning. The award wall was one that every class passed as they went to specials and to lunch, so students got to see their awards on the wall several times during the day. After dismissal, winning students came and took their awards off the wall to take home to share with their parents. Then the new awards were put up for the next day recognizing a new set of students. It was a great way to emphasize a new Growth Mindset trait or behavior each day.

Reward Tags

Another great way to recognize a growth mindset is with reward tags! I’ve used reward tags in 3 different ways during test prep.

  1. Hand out Reward Tags to students during work time as you see them display these characteristics. 
  2. Dot Plots: When you give a student a reward tag, give them a sticky dot to put on the dot plot. Then talk about the dot plot and the data it shows about the strengths of the class.
  3. Pictograph: Give students one-half of the brag tag and then have them put them together in a pocket chart to create a pictograph.
Growth Mindset Dot Plot
Practice creating Dot Plots while also recognizing students for working with a Growth Mindset.

I love to create dot plots and pictographs. In my intervention room, I created a dot plot with students during week 1 and a pictograph with students in week 2. Those happened to be graphs that many of my students also needed help with and the real-life data was so meaningful.

Growth Mindset Pictograph
Practice Pictographs where one image represents more than 1 student in the graph. Cut each reward tag in half and have students put their half in the pocket chart to create the pictograph during Test Prep.

Here are some great Growth Mindset messages to use during your Test Prep

  • I chose smart strategies to help me
  • I took wise brain breaks
  • I encouraged others
  • I am smarter because I struggled
  • I never gave up
  • I learned from a mistake
  • I checked my answers
  • I proved my answers

Let’s Do This! Get Your Free Growth Mindset Posters and Reward Tags

Free Growth Mindset Posters

I hope you feel inspired to make your test prep time meaningful by emphasizing the importance of a Growth Mindset during your test review! Make sure to:

  1. Help students Focus on what they can control
  2. Talk about what Growth Mindset looks like during Test Prep
  3. Surround students with Growth Mindset messages
  4. Have students Reflect on their mindset
  5. Reward students who demonstrate a Growth Mindset


Continue on to find other blog posts that are part of the March Mathness Event and to enter to win Math Manipulatives and Gift Cards for your classroom!

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