3 Lead-Up PE Activities for a Successful PACER Test

Fitness testing is a part of many physical education programs across the United States. I teach in Illinois; and in my state, we are mandated to begin this testing in the third grade. For many youngsters, the PACER test is the most difficult. Regardless of your personal stance on fitness testing, I want to share three lead up activities that I use to make the experience of administering the PACER test more enjoyable for the students. Each activity is designed to be performed for 4 minutes/32 laps using the 20m PACER cadence. The reason I use 32 laps is that number is well within the HFZ (Healthy Fitness Zone) for both males and females ages 10 to 12 (which are my students’ ages).

3-Person PACER Test Practice

To truly teach the “pacing” element within the test, I like to create mini-practice experiences for my students. I start with the “3-Person PACER”. This gets students used to the speed of the test and helps them determine the speed they need to maintain to make it across before the beep. It gives them a chance to rest more than run so students rarely get fatigued. To begin, students number themselves 1-2-3. The 1’s and 3’s line up at the starting line, and 2’s line up across from their group mates at the opposite side of the gym. I start the PACER cadence music and all the 1’s run down to the other side of the gym, while 2’s and 3’s rest. On the beep, the 2’s run back while the 1’s and 3’s rest. On the next beep, the 3’s run down while the 1’s and 2’s rest. I continue this pattern of running once and resting twice until we get to 4 mins/32 laps. You certainly could modify the level, the number of laps, or time limit to fit your needs.

3-Person Pacer Test Diagram

Partner PACER Practice

Another one I like to do is the “Partner PACER.” It creates the same amount of rest time as before but increases the amount of running and allows students to perform a consecutive lap. Here each student runs twice (down & back) and then rests twice while their partner runs. We continue the run twice/rest twice format for 4 mins/32 laps. Remember, you can throw this in as a warmup activity long before you get to your fitness testing days too. I like to use these activities in a progression in the weeks leading up to the actual test. Working up to the event makes it more tolerable for those non-runners or students who experience anxiety prior to the test. Also, having a partner makes the task easier for them to complete which provides a level of confidence in their abilities.

Partner Pacer Test

4 Minutes of Movement

For the final lead up activity, I let students do an individual PACER for 4 minutes/32 laps. This is a chance for everyone to run each lap on their own and see if they can make it to 32. If students miss twice or can’t keep up before reaching 32, they simply stay in their lane and continue to walk until the class reaches 32. The students that demonstrate they can complete 32 laps will be the students that run in the first heat when we perform the actual test because typically they run the longest. I run half the kids in heat one while the other half is scoring for a partner, then they switch roles and we run a second heat.


Assessment Pacer

While fitness testing may be an isolated series of events in your curriculum, keep in mind that fitness should be an ongoing part of your program. I work on fitness with my students almost every day in some way, shape, or form. As PE teachers, we disguise that fitness as FUN! We create experiences that get students moving in ways that ultimately benefit their overall physical literacy. We design lessons that get kids practicing a variety of skills. It is the confidence that kids develop in their skills that lead to increased motivation. It is that motivation that leads students toward continued participation in active pursuits using the skills they developed and continue to refine throughout their lives!

So, the next time fitness testing pops up on your calendar, give these activities a try before doing the PACER test and see how your students respond. I’ve seen several other ways to “spice up” the PACER test and would love to hear what you do in your program! Leave a comment below to share your thoughts & ideas with the #PhysEd community.

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