Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Test Taking Skills: The Basic Lesson

How to Ace a Standardized Test

One of the reasons I so dislike standardized tests is something that happened to me when I was in second or third grade. Even back then there were batteries of tests sold to schools that were supposed to assess student language skills. While some skills can be fairly tested with objective questions--recognizing parts of speech, basic grammar, spelling, and vocabulary--reading comprehension and writing skills can get a bit tricky.

Luckily, I learned the key "way back when" and never forgot the lesson.

I was given one of those standardized tests. Perfectionist that I was about tests, I was upset to find I had gotten one particular question wrong. It went something like this:

John who lived in the city all his life visited his friend Tom in the country. That night, when John went to bed he heard some crickets cry, and owl hoot and a nightbird sing. John had no idea the country could be so:
A. cold   B. dark   C. quiet   D. noisy 

I, having been brought up in the country had traveled to the city many times. The noise of cars, trucks, people, sirens, and dozens of other loud sounds always assaulted my "country" ears. So, with my wide eyed second/third grade wisdom, I selected answer "C. quiet." Obvious to me. Compared to the city, the country was a silent paradise.


Now, most of you saavy test takers know the correct answer is "D. noisy." When you answer basic comprehension questions on a reading selection, you must throw out all your prior knowledge, all your experience, and just use the information provided in the text to choose the right answer. John heard noises when he went to bed. It did not matter that they were mild and even soothing to country folk compared to the raucous hustle and bustle of his city home. The text said he heard noises so, the country was noisy.

I, even at that tender age, argued with my teacher about that answer and it took her a bit of extra work to finally get me to understand where I had gone wrong. I was lucky enough to finally get the idea.

The right answers on a standardized tests really have nothing to do with things you've learned along the way in life. They are the answers the test writer has decided are correct. You must ignore your own creative thinking and get into the writer's head instead.

This particular test writer had tricked me by posing "quiet" as one of the answers. He knew there were kids like me out there who would use their own knowledge of the world instead of the test material to answer the question. Thinking "outside the box" was a poor tactic for the testee to use.

Color inside the lines. Don't be creative. Don't think beyond the words on the page.

And, oh, yes, look for the "trap you" answer. It's usually there somewhere.

It's all part of the standardized test strategy game.

More tips in Part 3.

1 comment:

  1. Even worse. There are crickets and birds in the city. You can't hear them. Why?