Help! My Child Keeps Failing AR Tests!

Hello! Today, I want to tell you a little bit about how you can help kids improve their reading comprehension in general and do better on AR (Accelerated Reader) quizzes if they have to take them! If you are unfamiliar with Accelerated Reader, AR (for short) is an online reading comprehension quiz program that many schools use to motivate children to read more, with the goal of at least 85% comprehension as an average for every book read. If your child or several children in your class continually read AR books but fail these quizzes, what can you do to help? I hope to give some suggestions that could work at home and school. And teachers, there is a downloadable PDF copy of the “10 Great Ways to Boost Reading Comprehension” for AR Tests that you can send home with your students at the end of this post.

Standard practice for AR is that children are only allowed to read AR books that they can successfully understand and test well on. So even if your child enjoys reading much harder books, usually, schools will not allow a child to take a test on a book that is outside his or her “zone.” AR only rewards kids for reading books they can pass comprehension tests on because just saying the words aloud is not enough. There is little value to reading if there is no comprehension.

Occasionally, I hear a friend who is a parent or a teacher tell me that their child just HATES the AR program because they are only “allowed” to read certain books they are not interested in. After they read them, they almost always fail the tests, even though they seem to be trying very hard to understand, pay attention, and remember. It’s one thing to help children at home with very short books; it’s another to help them when the books are MUCH longer, primarily when parents work or when multiple children in the house need homework help.

The biggest bummer is that schools often offer HUGE rewards for kids who can rack up the AR points, and the kids really want them! But reading is still hard, and getting the comprehension piece of it just right is harder. If it doesn’t fall into place nicely, children and parents can feel like they are failing somehow, even though they are trying their best. One tricky thing about AR is that many schools want the children to pass the quizzes with 85%, but tests for shorter books have only five questions. And getting at least 85% right on a five-question test means you can’t miss ANY- or you’ll drop down to 80%! So it’s a pass/fail situation, which can be very disheartening to some children who would like to be given credit for what they know rather than penalized for not knowing the whole thing!

Children should be HAPPY when they are reading!

I often brainstorm ideas for issues like this by posting the question on my HeidiSongs Facebook page. Many expert teachers and teacher moms have a great deal of collective life experience and wisdom to offer, and so many of these suggestions came from them. Thank you to all of you who helped with this!

10 Great Ways to Boost Reading Comprehension for AR Tests

1. Stop and Jot

Set a timer so that it will go off about four times while your child reads a book. Each time the timer goes off, have the child stop and draw a quick picture of what is happening in the story. They could also write down in words something exciting or important that just happened in the book. This helps them visualize and remember what is happening in the story. Here are some free downloadable worksheets with places for kids to draw pictures of what is happening in the story.

This worksheet has the words “first, then, next, and last” in the boxes. Children are supposed to draw pictures of what is happening in the books that they are reading to help them visualize the story in their minds.

This worksheet is the same as the one above but has numbers rather than the words “first, next, then, last,” etc.

2. Ask your child as many questions as you can think of!

Listen to your child read the book aloud. Before your child turns each page, stop and ask your child questions about what he or she just read. Here’s an example of a page from a book and some questions to ask:

This picture is from the book Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer. In the story, George is taken to the vet because he makes a different animal sound every time they ask him to bark!

Here are some possible questions that you might see in a typical AR test:

-Who took George to the vet?
-Why did George have to go to the vet?
-What did the vet ask George to do?
-How did George act when the vet asked him to bark?
-What did George say the first time the vet asked him to bark?  (or the second, or third, etc.)
-How did George’s mom probably feel when she learned George couldn’t bark?

I have coached many parents to help their children pass AR tests by showing them this trick and nothing more! It also allows parents to look at what kinds of questions are in a typical AR test at their child’s reading level. So, you may want to ask your child’s teacher if you can preview a test from a typical book to get an idea of what questions to ask. It doesn’t have to be a preview of a test your child will likely take.

3. You read to me, and I’ll read to you.

Have your child read the book aloud, and then you read it to them. Make a recording of you, the adult, reading the book fluently and with good expression. (You can easily use the voice memo feature on a cell phone for this purpose.) Then, let your child reread the book WITH the recording you just made. This was suggested by more than one of the teacher moms who responded on my Facebook page as a trick they use with their struggling readers at home. You can also get many books on tape at the library. Have your child read along with the narrator, and then try to read it themselves.

4. Find shorter books at the same grade level and test on those rather than chapter books.

One teacher mom told her son that the Magic Tree House books were to be “just for fun” rather than for AR testing, because they took so long to review for a test. She said, “I have stopped him from testing on chapter books until he meets his AR goal. He is testing on smaller books so that he can pass the test. They are still at 3.5 -4.0 reading levels, just not chapter books. His Magic Tree House books are just read for extra reading now. He loves to read!!”

5. Choose a book at the right reading level.

In AR, kids are supposed to do better when they stay in their “zone,” or ZPD. The ZPD is the “Zone of Proximal Development,” which is a fancy way of giving a child a range of reading levels (like 1.5-2.0, for example) to stick with for instructional purposes. Children in the AR program are usually given the STAR test to determine their ZPD. For success, they should choose books within that range of reading levels. So, if their range is supposed to be 1.5-2.0, have them choose books from the BOTTOM of their ZPD range! So, if the range is 1.5-2.5, choose a 1.5 or 1.6-level book.

Children sometimes choose more challenging books than they should because they are trying to gain as many AR points as possible to win school contests given as incentives to read. However, most schools won’t count any points from a book that is read unless the AR test is passed with 85% or more.

Teachers can access the AR system and set testing perimeters for each child, making it impossible for the child to take an AR test on a book outside their zone.

6. Get stuck on a word?

Once your child figures it out, have them reread the whole sentence. Ask them what the sentence means. Now, go back to the top of the page and re-read the entire page! If you could see the specific questions that children miss on the AR tests and then think back on the pages that that part was on in the book, you may very well find that the page with that information was a page with a couple of tricky words.

When the brain switches to trying very hard to decode or sound out words, less brain power can be devoted to comprehension. So, you have to get past that and help your child become fluent with those words. And those words often come up on the tests, too! And if your child doesn’t know them, they’re more likely to miss that question, just from not understanding it!

7. Read an AR book five times before testing! (If it’s short enough to do so!)

That’s my coworker’s rule for her first-grade class. The children are expected to read their AR books five times before testing! This helps them get familiar with the book and be better prepared for the questions the AR test might ask. The better they know the book, the easier the test should be. Of course, depending on the level, some books are too long to read five times over, so adjust this depending on each child’s reading level.

8. If the book is informational (nonfiction), have children carefully examine the headings, table of contents, and glossary if there is one.

My coworker tells her students that they should be able to read the words in the headings, table of contents, and glossary before taking a test. In fact, she says it’s more like STUDYING those informational books before taking those tests! So think of it as studying for a test- not just reading a book. They read the book to get the information and try remembering it for the test- just like the big kids do!

9. Have your kids practice finding the main idea of simple conversational topics first, then move on to books.

One teacher on my Facebook page said that she taught her students to listen to someone tell a very simple story aloud, such as what they did for a recent holiday or the day before. Then she has the children all tell the main idea of that little “story,” as well as answer any “who, what, when, where, why” questions she can come up with.

I suggest teaching them to identify the setting, characters, and the different parts of the story, such as the beginning, middle, and end or conclusion. That is also very good practice since it makes them more aware of the story structure and what to expect when reading. It also helps them become better writers as well! Below is a song my class sings to help teach the parts of a story. Remarkably enough, it is called The Parts of a Story Song from the Little Songs for Language Arts video collection.

10. What should you do if your child STILL fails the AR test, even though you have tried many of these strategies?

-Take the reading level WAY down until you find the level of books your child is successful at. Stay on that level for a while, and build up the feeling of success. Then start inching the reading level up, little by little, keeping an eye on the test scores to ensure that you stay within what the child can do.

Discuss test-taking strategies. Help your child recognize some answers unrelated to the story so they can eliminate them. For example, if there is a word in one of the multiple-choice answers that the child has never seen before, then that’s probably NOT the correct answer!

-Check and see if your child can read “question words” fluently and efficiently, such as who, what, when, where, why, how, etc. If they get stuck on just reading the question, they won’t be able to answer it correctly, either! We can help them by ensuring they understand these question words and are familiar with them before testing happens.

-You may want to see if you can watch your child take a test (although you cannot intervene and give answers!) However, watching a child take a test can reveal what is happening in the child’s mind. I have watched Kindergartners fail AR tests on books I KNOW they understand simply because the child always chose the last of the four multiple-choice answers! (The child simply didn’t understand the format of the multiple choice test, as they’d never seen something like this before.)

I have also seen children choose their “favorite” answer, the silliest answer, or the answer that seems to be the most fun, but NOT the answer that has anything to do with the book’s contents! When you ask them why, they just smile and shrug! Children need to be mature enough to understand that the test relates to the book’s content in order to be successful at taking the AR tests.

-Check if your child has a solid phonics and sight words foundation. If your child is missing skills, this will affect reading comprehension and, therefore, AR test scores. has many resources to help children with this, especially at pre-K, Kindergarten, and first-grade levels, so check us out! Here is a HeidiSongs phonics song and a HeidiSongs sight word song for you to check out from our streaming site:

If you would like a printed copy of these suggestions for boosting reading comprehension, just download a PDF copy here. I have edited it so teachers could send it home if they like. Parents may also simply download it and refer to it now and then to help them remember different ways to help their child do better on AR tests or reading comprehension in general.

Good luck!
– Heidi

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to HeidiSongs Streaming Videos, and follow us on Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest!  Check out our website at, and find us on Teachers Pay Teachers right here.