Tech Skills Needed for Successful Online Testing

With state testing going online, many teachers worry that their students will not do well due to a lack of tech skills rather than content knowledge. In our district, my department has been tasked with helping teachers determine what tech skills their students will need. We are also working hard to find tools that will help students practice these skills without requiring students to take online practice tests over and over.

In Colorado, our students will be taking the CMAS and PARCC, both powered by PearsonAccess. We searched high and low for resources that may have already been created to help us with this task, but found few. So in an effort to help others, I am sharing our findings with you!

UPDATE 1/12/15: I've updated some links and added a few additional resources that I've come across since originally posting this.

UPDATE 2/12/16: Some of the links and tools changed. New updates reflect these changes.

For those of you interested in seeing the practice tests, click on the links below:
Below is a list of the tech skills students will need to be successful on the online tests, along with practice suggestions when applicable. Click here for a list of PARCC Acronyms.

Students will need to be comfortable typing responses. At the very least, they should know where all the keys are on a keyboard. Check my other blog post dedicated to Keyboarding & Online Testing with research based suggestions.

Practice Suggestions:

Constructed Response
Constructed responses have a certain character limit. Most students do not have an understanding of what 500, 750, 1000, etc. characters looks like.

Practice Suggestions:
The Word Count Tool in Google Docs and Microsoft Word will give users a character count as well. You can find the Word Count Tool under the tools menu in both programs.

Student often do not transfer punctuation and capitalization in constructed responses on the computer. They will need to practice doing so. Additionally, they will need opportunities to practice using the text editing tools available to them on the text (Bold, italicize, underline, bullets, numbered lists, cut, copy, paste, undo, redo).

Practice Suggestions:
Students need practice with typing their ideas directly (i.e. not copying from a handwritten doc.) They can do so via:
  • Blogging
  • Short answer questions in Schoology, Edmodo, or other LMS
  • Journal activities in Google Docs, etc.

Toggling Between Tabs
Students will need to be able toggle between tabs on the assessments. In testing lingo, this is being called a "performance event". A Performance Event is a group of items that all relate to a set of sources about a topic. Several sources appear on the left-hand side of the screen in a tabbed format. The items associated with the sources appear on the right-hand side of the screen. The items that go with the Performance Event may be Selected Response, Constructed Response, or TEI  (Technology Enhanced Item).

 Practice Suggestions:

Hot Spot
Hot spot items contain "hot spot zones" which represent student answer options. Hot spot zones are answer options that may be part of a graphic, art, numbers, or text that are selected in response to a question. Unlike a traditional multiple-choice item where only one answer option can be selected, hot spot items may require the student to select one or more hot spot zones (answer options) in order to correctly answer the item.

From Colorado Summative TestNav Tools and ePAT Guide - "The student selects a hot spot by clicking on it. In some hot spot items, there will be an indication on the screen (such as the zone being outlined in light blue) which confirms that the pointer is over a hot spot. After the hot spot is clicked, there will always be an indication that the zone has been selected as an answer, e.g., the hot spot being outlined in burnt orange, the hot spot being shaded, a check mark being placed on the hot spot, or a red point being plotted on the number line or coordinate plane." 

Practice Suggestions:
Cool Math Venture Capital- Locate It Option

Students can highlight text in questions by using their cursor to select the text they wish to highlight. Once selected, 2 color options pop up, as well as an option to UNhighlight.  

Practice Suggestions:

Answer Eliminator
Students can click on the answer eliminator tool to "cross out" answers on multiple choice answers that they believe are incorrect.

Drag and Drop
Drag and drop items contain "draggers" and "bays". Draggers are the answer options that are moved to bays in response to the question. Bays are areas of an item where draggers will remain once moved there. Drag and drop items require a student to respond by moving a dragger from one place on the screen into a bay on the screen. The student will click on the dragger and keep the button down while moving the dragger to the desired location. Once the button is released, the dragger will be in the new location. Students can move a dragger out of a bay if they want to change their answer.

Examples (These and additional examples can be found in Dot's Dotcom Blog Post):

Grade 3 – Number Lines (drag items to the number line)
Grade 3 – Mariana’s Fractions (drag and drop, drag sliders)
Grade 4 – Number of Stadium Seats (drag and drop)
Grade 6 – Julie of the Wolves – Part II (drag and drop)
Grade 6 – Cake Weighing (drag and drop and make selections)
High School – Isabella’s Credit Card (drag and drop, type in blanks)
High School – Rabbit Populations (drag and drop, make selections)

Practice Suggestions:
  • Map Snap
  • Mouse Skills - Very primary, but will give students much needed practice using a touchpad if testing will be done on Chromebooks. Touchpads can be tricky for those who are not experienced with them.
  • Drag & Drop Skill Practice (less primary)

Bar Graph and Histogram
Bar graph or histogram items require students to graph data by indicating the height (if the bars are vertical) or length (if the bars are horizontal) of one or more bars or intervals. The bar height or length is graphed by clicking on a location within the graph or by dragging the bar to the desired location.

Practice Suggestions:
A brief lesson on bar graphs - This site showcases the difference between bar graphs and histograms (at the bottom of the page).
Build a Bar Graph - This site lets you build a bar graph by clicking to indicate bar height (most sites ask the use to input numbers and automatically create the bar graph for the user.)

Test Taking Tools

Ruler & Protractor
Some questions will have a ruler and/or protractor available for student use. Students will need to be able to click and drag to rotate these tools as needed.

 Some questions will have a calculator available for student use.


Line Reader
The digital equivalent of the EZ Reader strip:


Students will need to be able to use a drop-down menu to access the tool and be able to drag and drop to resize/move the tool as needed.

Allows the student to magnify item content while preserving clarity, contrast, and color. The magnifier can be accessed from the User Menu in the top right corner.

Students will need to be able to use a drop-down menu to access the tool and be able to drag the magnifier around the screen as needed.

A Bookmark button is located at the top of the screen. This should be used for any question a student would like to review at a later time.

A Review button is located at the top of the screen. This can be used to navigate directly to a question and to access "bookmarked" questions.

Navigation buttons appear at the top left of the screen for each question. Selecting the forward arrow button takes you to the next question. Selecting the back arrow button takes you back to the previous question.

Did we leave anything out? Do you have other practice suggestions? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. Great resources, thank you. Do you have any suggestions for student centered practice with the Equation Editor? This seems to be a big learning curve for many of our students.

    1. THANKS FOR THIS, Anna! Very comprehensive and thoughtfully/creatively presented -- you have helped us bridge the research to practice gag in this digital age.

  2. This is a fantastic article! I look forward to sharing it throughout our District!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. So helpful!! Hope you don't mind if I share this with my staff.

  5. FANTASTIC SITE! May I share in New Jersey?

  6. Awesome assets, bless your heart. Do you have any recommendations for understudy focused practice with the Equation Editor? This is by all accounts a major expectation to absorb information for a number of our understudies. essay writing service

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  9. Is there something like this for The Smarter Balance Assessment?

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  12. Awesome assets, much obliged. Do you have any proposals for student focused practice with the Equation Editor? This is by all accounts a major expectation to learn and adapt for a large number of our students.

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  13. Thank you for sharing a great content, i really appreciate your writing. It is essential to improve technical skills for complete online testing successfully. I found your post very interesting and valuable and will recommend it to my friends also. Once again thank you for post will wait to read more from your side.

  14. This looks interesting, thanks!


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