Math Wheels for Note-taking?

How to Teach Test-Taking Strategies to Middle Schoolers

Help your middle schoolers tackle test-taking anxiety with these creative test-taking strategies featuring the popular math doodle wheel.

Ever felt like you’ve crammed for a test only to freeze up when it’s time actually to take it? It’s like, your brain’s on vacation or something… No thoughts, not even static. Been there, done that, and it’s not a fun ride, right? I bet you and your students have been through it, too – that nervousness that hits well before the big test day. So, how can we help our students out? Sure, we can hand out study guides and give everyone enough time to prep, but one trick I’ve found super helpful is this Test-Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel. It’s a cool note-taking organizer that my students really connect with. Plus, it gives them a whole toolbox of smart strategies. Let’s dig in together and check out each game-changing strategy!

What are Doodle Wheels?

Before jumping in with both feet, I want to quickly explain the “doodle wheel” that I referred to above. Bid farewell to the days of traditional fill-in-the-blank notes and the rush to scribble down everything from the board. Enter in doodle wheels, which are single-sided note-taking innovations designed to organize and condense class notes on specific topics. Throughout the academic year, you and your students can continually reference these note pages for quick access to definitions, reminders, and mastery examples!

Doodle wheels are creative ways to help students take notes and remember information which is why including it in your test-taking strategies is so important.

These doodle wheels serve as an invaluable resource for fostering organizational skills, promoting independent learning, and reinforcing concepts. Positioned at the hub of the wheel, students creatively doodle and color in the focal concept, essentially dubbing it the “title” of the math wheel for effortless future reference.

The remaining segments of the wheel are dedicated to essential vocabulary and the sequential steps and strategies relevant to the particular math or other subject area concept. Within each segment, students jot down primary definitions or steps, followed by collaborative problem-solving sessions with the teacher or classmates.

Post-note-taking, students revisit their notes and infuse vibrant hues into each section, whether through background shading, elaborate font styles, or whimsical doodles. These colorful visual cues serve as mnemonic devices, aiding students as they apply their skills throughout the unit or later in the academic year. It’s an engaging method to solidify understanding and retention of mathematical concepts!

Want to learn more about the benefits of Doodle Wheels? Make sure to read Using Doodle Wheel Graphic Organizers in Math and ELA.

Test-Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel Sections Explained

Now that we have more background about Doodle Wheels, we can return our focus to the Test Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel. I’m going to walk you through each section so you get a feel of how you would use it with your students. The bonus to these strategies is that these test-taking strategies are not just for math. They can be used in all subject areas.

Read the Directions

My very first tip to my students every single time we do an activity, project, or test is to read their directions. Guess what? They still don’t do it. I tell them that, for the most part, the directions hold the answers to what you need to do. It takes more time not to read the directions, get up out of your seat, come to me, wait for me to be ready to help you, and then only hear, “Did you read your directions?” I’m not sure if this is the teacher hill I will die on, but I knew I needed to put a few guidelines in place for my students.

Test-taking strategies like remembering to read the directions may seem simple, but when your students have a visual example from their math doodle wheel they are more likely to remember this important step.

In this first section of our Test Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel, I have my students write down underneath “read directions” a few different phrases. They write down to underline important items in the question. To help them decide what is important, we talk about if there are multiple parts to the question or direction. Do they need to explain an answer? Can they choose more than one answer? Having that action of underlining creates the movement of the action but also the visual of having parts underlined.

Underline Key Information in the Question

Another one of our important test-taking strategies is to remember to underline key information in passages or problems.

Next, we focus on reading the question and underlining the most important information. This could include important vocabulary words, operation words (add, subtract, multiply, divide), and numbers.

This will help students remember what they need to be doing, what they need to be solving, how many of something they need, etc.

The more we can pull from the question the less room there is for subjectivity and mistakes from quick reading. I like to let my students know that everything they need can be found in the question. They don’t have to add to or wonder “what if” when it comes to test questions. When students wrap their brains around the fact that everything they need is provided for them, they tend to relax and can better focus on the information.

Choose a Strategy

In the next section, I walk my students through choosing a strategy depending on what the question is asking us to do. This might include applying a formula they learned, drawing a picture of what is going on in the question, or graphing information. Any strategies that you have taught your students can be added here.

I encourage my students to use that strategy right on the test paper next to the question. This means writing out formulas or drawing pictures in the margins or workspace. This helps students to keep their thoughts and work organized.

Read All Answer Choices

I say these exact words before every single test I give my students. It’s so tempting to read the first answer choice and call it a day! However, sometimes the answer choices are similar.

Other times, students are reading them too fast and misunderstand what the answer choice is saying. Sometimes, by reading over them, you can start eliminating or narrowing down to the correct answer.

As teachers, we know that there are many reasons why students should be reading all the answer choices. The hard part is getting them to do it. So make a point of drilling this into their head in as many different ways as you can. Writing it here on the Doodle Wheel is a great start.

Eliminate Answers

Now that we have read over all of our answers, we start to eliminate the answers. When eliminating answers, it’s helpful to cross out choices that they know are wrong. The key word in this strategy is KNOW! I explain to students that this is not a guess, this does not mean I don’t want to figure it out, but this means I am 100% positive that this cannot be the answer.

I also teach my students to cross out choices that don’t make sense. When they are confident in what the question is asking them to do (see the steps above) they can identify an answer choice that just doesn’t make sense.

By crossing out these answer choices, students are left with a reduced number of answers to work through. If your students are anything like mine, any strategy that helps them “do less work” will be one they buy into.

Check Your Work

Oh my goodness, this is the other teacher hill I may perish upon. I don’t know about your kiddos, but when mine hear the word “homework” or know they have limited time, they interpret that as “rush to get it all done!” They just turn in whatever they write down on their paper.

So, when we get to this strategy, we talk about the importance of taking one’s time. We talk about taking ownership of their work and how part of that is checking over the work carefully.

They should make sure that all questions have been answered thoroughly. They should be able to find proof for their answer. In language arts, this could be the text evidence they underlined. For math, I encourage them to do the problem twice, if there is time, on a separate piece of paper so they aren’t tempted to look at their first answer.

Use Available Resources

When we get to this test-taking strategy, I tell my students to absolutely, with zero doubt, use this strategy when they have resources available to them. Being able to have a formula sheet, a calculator, a ruler, and a note card with notes on it is a game changer that should be utilized!

I explain that using the tools you are provided with is not just smart, but it is good practice. We talk about a variety of different people who use tools and why that is important. A chef doesn’t bring his best knife to the kitchen only to cut everything with a table knife. Professional football players don’t bring their cleats only to leave them in the locker.

I teach students that tools help make a job easier. I also let them know that tools are provided to help them do their job better. Since most students are eager for easier and better, they are quick to use those tools.

Take Your Time

The last strategy on the Test Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel encourages them to take their time. I remind them to work at a speed that allows them to use all of their strategies without feeling rushed. I also make sure that they know that taking a test is not a race. You don’t get extra points for finishing first. I encourage students to not compare themselves to others by focusing on when they are turning the page or finishing the exam.

One thing that really helped with this was when students learned that on a standardized test, there are often multiple versions of the test with the questions in different orders. So someone may have questions that don’t need as much time at the beginning while yours are at the end. Comparing your progress or finish time to those around you just isn’t a fair comparison.

Instead, I encourage each student to find a pace that works for them. A pace where they can read each question carefully, underline important parts, do the necessary work, and check their answers.

When it comes to timing, it’s also worth encouraging students to move on if they are stuck. Working at your pace doesn’t mean getting stuck on one problem. I encourage students to work with it for a little bit, but if you’ve been there for a while and making progress towards the answer, move on. I teach them to circle the question number of the question they are skipping and move on to the next. This allows them to come back to it later.

Personalizing the Test-Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel

Once we’ve tackled those strategies, I offer my students a chance to unleash their artistic side. They revisit their notes, incorporating color, designs, and additional symbols to add a personal touch.

The colors and doodles help my students remember what we talked about. Along the border surrounding the doodle wheel are positive affirmations for them to also color in afterward.

Whether you are teaching test-taking strategies or fractions, it’s all about breaking down the skill into manageable pieces and crafting a practical reference tool. That’s what Doodle Wheels do!

Test-Taking Strategies Will Bring Success

As we wrap up our exploration of the Test-Taking Strategies Doodle Wheel, I hope you’re as excited as I am about the transformative power it holds. Navigating the world of test-taking can be a daunting journey. With these thoughtfully crafted strategies and the personalized touch of doodles and colors, we’re turning it into a more manageable and even enjoyable venture. The goal is not merely to conquer tests, but to empower students with a toolbox that extends beyond the boundaries of any particular subject. So, let’s continue this journey together, fostering a positive and confident approach to testing—one doodle wheel at a time. Happy testing!

Additional Resources

If you are looking to read more about test-taking strategies, make sure to check out these two other blog posts:

Save These Test-Taking Strategies for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite teaching Pinterest board for when you are wanting some test-taking strategies!


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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