20 Things You Can Do While Actively Monitoring a Standardized Test

There’s just no way around it, people. Testing season is upon us.

Photos of things teachers can do during standardized test (make ABC lists, drink beverages)

We could talk all day about what’s wrong with standardized test season.

They kill creativity. Discourage critical thinking. Pad the wallets of people whose wallets most definitely do not need padding. But one of the worst and arguably least manageable aspects of standardized test season for teachers is active monitoring.

Active monitoring is an especially torturous form of boredom designed by The State to prevent students (and teachers) from cheating on standardized testing. Teachers may not talk, sit, grade papers, write, draw, read, use technology of any kind, or do anything that would be a distraction to students. In fact, the only things teachers can do during standardized testing, which can range from a few hours to, in some cases, full school days, are:

1) Walk around

2) Watch students take a test


Fifteen minutes of having nothing to do is a nice break. An hour of active monitoring is officially terrible. Consecutive days? Maddening.

Until now.

Here are ideas that will keep your mind and body occupied without breaking any testing rules. (I have some additional ideas on my blog.) I hope they help you this testing season. 

1. Memorize your students’ first, middle, and last names.

Then totally freak them out by addressing them by their full names after testing, preferably in some kind of creepy whisper. “Thank you for returning your testing materials, Piper Marie Dunbar.”

2. Embrace being a beverage goblin.

As far as I know, no state has a limit on the number of beverages a teacher can have available during standardized testing. Now is not the time to limit yourself. Visit the gas station or grocery store before school and load up, my friend.

3. Make an ABC list.

One of my former coworkers has a scary-brilliant mind. To keep it occupied during PD (which was often PD we’d already attended), she would write the entire alphabet split between two columns on the third or fourth page of a legal pad. Then, she’d put a theme at the top, such as “Cities I’d actually want to visit” or “Things dentists might have seen in mouths.” Over the course of PD, she would fill in each letter with a word that started with that letter and fit the theme. For example, the “cities I actually want to visit list” might start with Adelaide, Bangkok, and Cairo.

She’d be watching the presentation intently, but every once in a while, she would nod thoughtfully at the presenter, flip her legal pad and “take notes,” but really be adding another idea she thought of to her ABC list. Like I said, brilliant.

And before you rush to tell me that you can’t be staring at a list while actively monitoring, yes, I know. ABC lists actually demand very little of your visual attention. Fill out a piece of paper ahead of time and put it on your clipboard (under testing reminders, seating chart, rosters, etc.). You only have to keep your eyes on it a few seconds at a time, which is way less time than you’re expected to have your eyes off students for other standardized test-related tasks that are required.

Here are a handful of ABC list themes to get you started:

  • Brand names
  • Cute animals
  • Things I’d buy if I won the lottery
  • Baby names that are awful
  • Objects or characters from Pixar Movies
  • Things I’m grateful for (“Things for which I am grateful” for the English teachers)

4. Exchange a surprise treat basket with a partner who will also be in this active monitoring hellhole.

(You can do this by yourself, but it’s more fun if it’s a surprise.)

Basically, you’re curating a small collection of treats that the testing teacher can enjoy every hour (or half hour). The treats don’t have to be candy—they can be fun office supplies, a sudoku printed and folded up, a series of puzzle pieces that reveal a picture or message at the end. This way, you have something to look forward to that isn’t six hours away.

Pro tip: Select your hourly treat at the back of the room so students aren’t distracted by your joy.

5. Keep a small amount of Silly Putty in your hand and challenge yourself to make various shapes without looking. 

Snake. Prism. Stack of pancakes. Snowman. Snowman with top hat.

6. Think about your responses to these “Would you  rather …?” questions or create some of your own.

Would you rather have pogo sticks for legs or fully retractable arms?

Would you rather live in the worst place you can think of but have a travel budget to go anywhere you wanted in the world for three months out of the year, or be able to live anywhere in the world but never be able to leave it?

Would you rather own a dragon or be a dragon?

7. Pretend to be a car.

I like to make the “scrrrrr!” noise in my head as I round the corner of a row.

8. Pretend to be a spider making a web.

Think about what pattern you would make if you were leaving a web behind as you weave around the room. Then think about how weird it would be if you were a human leaving a web behind. Then try not to laugh.

9. Pretend to be a ninja.

Do a lap around the room as silently as possible.

10. Think about what you would want your last words to be.

Macabre? Yes. But isn’t that how standardized testing makes us all feel? I love Bob Hope’s last words. He said, “Surprise me,” in response to his wife asking him where he wanted to be buried.

11. Put ice cream in a nondescript cup or mug in the back corner of the room just before testing.

An hour or so in, treat yourself to a milkshake!

12. Find things in the room that rhyme or almost rhyme.

You can also use students’ names and/or emotions you are feeling as a proctor, for example, bored and Lourdes, table and miser-able. Haha.

13. Print out a sheet of riddles in a small font and put it somewhere only you will be able to see it.

The back of a filing cabinet at the back of the room is perfect. Use your time monitoring to try to figure out the answer to the riddles. Once you solve it (or give up), casually walk by it to read the next one.

14. Listen to the soundtrack of a musical just before the standardized test and enjoy every single song being in your head for the next eight hours.

“Into the Woods” and “Les Miserables” work 100% of the time.

15. Send each child positive vibes, one at a time.

I imagine positive vibes being these yellow spaghetti-like wobbly tubes that actually connect between our brains, but you can imagine them however you like.

16. Arrange to have a specific treat after each standardized test.

That way you have something nice to think about during the post-lunch active monitoring slump, which is notoriously rough. “Only a little bit longer and then I get to go home to the beef tips in my slow cooker!” or “This is rough, but in a few hours I’ll have my feet in moisturizing socks and be binge-watching Netflix!” Except please make sure your treats are more exciting than mine.

17. Think about what school would be like if you were the principal.

Mandatory post-lunch naptime in secondary schools, for starters.

18. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Breathe in for four counts through your nose, hold it for seven counts, breathe out through your mouth for eight counts. There’s limited scientific evidence to support it, but anecdotally this technique reduces anxiety (and later you can use it to help fall asleep!)

19. Do something good for yourself.

Add a beverage with vitamins or adaptogens to your beverage goblin lineup, stretch your neck, do some calf raises, make a gratitude list. If states are going to standardize testing, standardize your self-care!

20. Think about what you would get on a vanity license plate.

If you get bored of that, think of what your favorite characters from literature or history would get on their vanity plates if they had them.

Hopefully you’ve found a new activity or two to make standardized test season less of a slog and more of a … nah. It’s still a slog. But a little creativity can go a long way in tolerability.

P.S. I’ve heard from many of you who arrived at this article via your principals. Shout-out to the administrators who still remember what it’s like to be a teacher. You’re the real ones.

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A standardized test is bad enough for kids, but for teachers it's mind-numbing. We've assembled 20 testing-approved, active-monitoring hacks.