How to Study for a Spelling Test in Effective Ways

, Staff Editor
Updated August 24, 2020
boy practicing spelling
    boy practicing spelling
    Peter Dazeley / The Image Bank / Getty Images

If your child is struggling with his or her spelling words, there are many steps you can take to help encourage good study habits for spelling tests. Keep in mind that children need to learn how to study for spelling tests just as they need to learn how to spell words. Use one strategy or activity each day.

Spelling Test Practice Strategies That Work

Studies and professionals suggest these spelling study strategies are highly effective for kids.

Highlight the Hard Parts

Many teachers follow the pretest, practice, actual test format for teaching spelling words. You can use the pretest to help you study for the real test by highlighting parts of words you had trouble with.

  1. Look at your pretest. Use a highlighter to mark the letter or letters you got wrong in any word.
  2. Get a clean sheet of paper. Start with all the words you missed on the pretest and write out your spelling words.
  3. As you write a word you missed from the pretest, write the letter or letters you got wrong in a different color than the rest of the letters.
  4. As you highlight these letters, think about why you mixed them up.
  5. Focusing on the parts you had the most trouble with can help ensure you get them right on the final test.

Use Word Mapping to Develop Spelling Skills

When studying spelling word lists, it's important to help your child avoid thinking of the words as random strings of arbitrary letters. For this reason, the traditional practice of simply studying spelling words by copying each word 10 to 30 times is no more effective than requiring your child to memorize every number in the phone book!

Good spellers are those who look for patterns in their lists of spelling words. Word mapping is a procedure that many educators believe can help students develop good study habits for spelling tests.

The steps to word mapping are:

  1. Say the word clearly.
  2. Stretch the word to emphasize each syllable as you pronounce it.
  3. Segment the phonemes (sounds of the word), working by individual syllables if necessary.
  4. Count the phonemes. See The Reading Genie's article on How to Count Phonemes in Spoken Words for a detailed explanation of this process.
  5. Draw blank spaces on a piece of paper for each phoneme, adding slashes where the syllables help divide the word.
  6. Work out the spelling of the word, phoneme by phoneme.
  7. Write the word several times in your best handwriting.
  8. Look for features that are unique or difficult in the spelling of the word.
  9. Look up the meaning of the word and try to use it in a sentence.

Try Chaining

Break the word down by letter to help you remember how it’s spelled. Chaining involves linking the letters of a word together slowly.

  1. Write down the first letter of one spelling word on a sheet of lined paper.
  2. Say the word, then say the letter as you write it.
  3. On the next line, write the first letter again, then the second letter.
  4. Say the word, then each letter as you write it.
  5. Continue writing on the next line until you have spelled the entire word.
  6. Check your spelling by looking at your spelling list to see if you got it right.

Fun Ways to Practice Spelling Words

If spelling practice feels boring or frustrating, use activities to help with spelling and help kids retain more of the information. While games can't replace regular study sessions, there are plenty of fun ways students can work in extra practice for an upcoming spelling list.

Examples of fun and simple spelling study activities include:

  • Make a word search using the spelling words.
  • Play simple spelling word games like Hangman.
  • Make pairs of matching word cards and play a memory game with your spelling list.
  • Cut letters out of an old magazine to make an artistic collage of the words on the spelling list.
  • Write a story using a favorite television character that incorporates all the words on the spelling list.
  • Spell words using the sign language alphabet.
  • Practice writing spelling words on sliding glass doors or windows with dry erase markers.
  • Practice spelling on the computer by typing your spelling words in different fonts and colors.
  • Think of something in your life that rhymes with each spelling word to create memorable spelling word phrases.
  • Give your parent a practice spelling test using your spelling list, then correct it for them.
  • Write the spelling words in reverse alphabetical order.
  • Write the spelling words in order with the fewest letters first.
  • Use magnetic letters to write your spelling words on the fridge or other magnetic object in the house.

Online Spelling Practice Fun

Kids who enjoy online games and activities can use sites like Spelling City to practice their own spelling and vocabulary words. Spelling city costs about $35 per year, but you can enter your child’s actual spelling list and it will be used for online spelling activities.

Educational websites like PBS Kids offer tons of free general spelling practice games for younger kids.

Tips for Developing Good Spelling Study Habits

As you might expect, students who do well on their spelling tests also tend to be those who have taken the time to develop a solid understanding of the basic study habits necessary for academic success.

Good spelling study habits include:

  • Create a regular schedule for practicing spelling. For example, choose a different spelling practice activity for each week day.
  • Write down spelling words and keep the list with other study materials.
  • Keep copies of old spelling lists in a special notebook. You can practice these words while driving to soccer practice, play a game of Scrabble as a family, or look for spelling words in your child's favorite library books.
  • Ask questions about the meaning of a word or why it’s spelled the way it is if you don’t understand.
  • Eliminate distractions such as music, television shows, or conversations among friends during the designated study time.

Importance of Regular Spelling Review Sessions

While your child may think his or her spelling lesson is finished once the teacher grades the test, regular review sessions are an important part of developing strong spelling skills. The best way to encourage a love of written language is to provide regular opportunities for your child to demonstrate his achievements in reading, writing, and spelling. Get started by taking a practice spelling bee quiz.