Multi Pass


This activity helps students to become adept at taking tests, and provides them with a mnemonic they can use to plan and structure their test taking. The acronym “PIRATES” (Hughes and Schumaker, 1991) stands for: Prepare to succeed Inspect the instructions Read, remember, reduce Answer or abandon Turn back Estimate Survey By using the PIRATES protocol, students gain confidence in test taking, and they develop the skills they need to demonstrate their knowledge as effectively as possible when taking a test.

Learning Strategies 

  • Determining Importance
  • Metacognition
  • Predicting
  • Visualizing

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content
  • Synthesis

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Academic Vocabulary
  • Text-Based Answers


Find or create sample tests that students can use to practice the PIRATES protocol. Of course, it will make the most sense to have these sample tests relate to course material so that they are useful and relevant to students, but you may want them to start with tests that are relatively easy so that they can focus on the strategy rather than the content. Create a display or handout of the mnemonic PIRATES, including what each letter stands for. Prepare to model using PIRATES on sample test items

Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher displays and reviews the steps of PIRATES. Teacher models using PIRATES on sample test items.

    Expect students to need significant modeling, direct instruction, and closely monitored practice when they are initially learning this process. It may help to focus on just a step or two of the process each day over several days.

  2. Teacher distributes a sample test to the students. Students prepare to work either individually or in pairs.

    Initially, these sample tests should be easy for the students content-wise, and then you can gradually move to more challenging content. Make sure that the format of the sample tests is identical to the format of the tests for which you are preparing students.

  3. P: Students “prepare to succeed” by writing the acronym “PIRATES” on the top of their test page. Students say to themselves: “I am prepared to succeed on this test. I can work hard to do well on this test.” Students scan the test to determine the types of

    Make sure that students write the acronym on their pages, but as they are learning they should still have access to an elaborated version of the acronym. This first step should take approximately three minutes. Students may want to write their difficulty rankings next to the exam sections.

  4. I: Students read the instructions and identify cue words that will help them to understand how and where to answer the questions.

    Depending on the content area, these cue words will vary. Help students to identify the most important cue words in your subject area.

  5. R: Students read the question, trying to grasp the primary meaning. They search their prior knowledge for relevant information that will help them to eliminate incorrect responses, and identify correct responses. Students eliminate answers that are clearl

    Eliminating incorrect responses is clearly most relevant for multiple-choice tests. In other types of tests, students can focus on the “read” and “remember” aspects of this step.

  6. A: If students have remembered enough information to find the correct answer, they answer the question and move on. If they cannot yet answer, then they mark the question to indicate that they need to come back to it, and move on. Students continue with t

    Some students like to mark identically all questions that they initially skip, and others prefer to mark questions differently to indicate they can answer it with more time or if they are sure they cannot answer it.

  7. T: After going through all questions, students turn back to the beginning of the test and start working through the problems they initially skipped. They answer any of the remaining questions that they are able to.

    Many students are able to solve some of the skipped questions with more time, or they may have recalled information that will now allow them to solve problems they initially skipped.

  8. E: Students use estimation for the problems they are still unable to solve. In multiple-choice questions, they try to eliminate unlikely choices and then guess among remaining choices. In other types of questions they make logical inferences and answer th

    Estimation is going to look pretty different in the varying subject areas, so you can help your students to identify the ways in which this step can be best adapted to the subject you teach.

  9. S: Students survey the test to ensure that they answered all test questions.

    Discourage students from impulsively changing answers at this point. Research shows that most students answer correctly the first time and often render their answers wrong when they change them at the last minute.

  10. Either alone or individually, in writing or in conversation, students reflect on their learning process.

    Students respond to questions including: · How does PIRATES compare to the way you usually take a test? · How does PIRATES affect your confidence about test taking? · How does PIRATES affect your ability to perform on a test? · When else might all or some of the steps of PIRATES be useful to you?

Downloadable Resources 
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