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THE A's, B's, C's, AND D's OF GOOD TEST TAKING
Does the mere sight of a No. 2 pencil cause your child to break into a cold, trembling sweat? Are the words multiple-choice or essay invariably followed by a thin, keening shriek or forlorn wail? If the answer to either of these questions is "yes," then it's time you faced the facts: When it comes to taking standardized tests, your child is just like everyone else.
The vast majority of Americans experience some fear and nervousness before taking a big test. It is only natural that a ten-year-old would feel anxious when faced with a test that might cause him to have to take summer school, or maybe even be held back a grade. Sure, there are a few folks out there who are perfectly calm when faced with exams, but they are all either hopelessly insane or currently making a living writing test-preparation materials.
Let your kid know that it is normal to be nervous about the unknown, but that the more he knows about these exams, the less nervous he wilt feet. All the information and all the techniques we will cover in this book will ease your child's nervousness and replace it with confidence by making that "unknown" -- in this case, the exams -- familiar and manageable. Test anxiety almost invariably leads to a lower test score, so it is important that you work to boost your child's confidence about the exams. Just understanding the basic format of these exams can be empowering, as the Reading test changes from a scary hurdle that must be jumped to simply "a 100-minute multiple-choice test with 65 questions."
Learning about question types and other facts about the exams serves a dual purpose for the tests: It provides your child with useful information, and it takes away the fear-of-the-unknown aspect of the exam. This principle is the foundation of successful test preparation:
Familiarity leads to confidence.
Think of the tests as that haunted house on the end of your street. At first, your child only knows the horror stories about the children who went inside never to be seen again. Your job as a parent is to guide your child through the exams during the day, showing how the scary noise coming from upstairs is caused by a rusty blind, and that beyond the usual dangers associated with an old house (Loose floorboards, a rickety staircase), there is nothing about the place to worry about. If you can replace the anxiety and stress your child feels about the tests with a feeling of confidence, you will have done him a great service.
Why Cosmas Ndeti, Former Boston Marathon Winner, Would Probably Do Well on These Tests
Although Mr. Ndeti, a world-class marathon runner, probably has not had as much work with fractions as your child has recently, he is very skilled in one crucial test-taking area: pacing. Knowing that he's going to run 26 miles, Ndeti picks a nice, consistent speed at which to run, and keeps at that pace throughout the entire race. What he doesn't do, and what you should not allow your child to do, is spend too much time in any one area or run out of gas before the race is over.
Since there are a variety of questions on these exams, the specific details of how much time your child should spend per question will be covered in greater detail in the forthcoming chapters. However, the main idea you must pass on to your child is never to spend too much time on any one question. At a certain point, taking too much time becomes as harmful as taking too little: frustration mounts, boredom and fatigue set in. Perseverance is a noble trait, but on a standardized test, spending haft the time answering one multiple-choice question is tantamount to standardized-test suicide. Your child should stay focused on the task at hand and never get too flustered by any one question.
One or two small breaks during each section is fine if your child feels her brain is getting strained. Tell her to put the pencil down, stretch out her hands and arms, think of eating her favorite food, and then pick up the pencil and finish the test. If your child comes to a question she does not understand, tell her to think of this as a guideline:
Spend up to three minutes trying to figure out the question; then, using the techniques taught in this book, take an educated guess and move on.
These tests do not require perfection. There are only two real scores: pass or fail To pass, students simply need to get about two-thirds of the questions right, so it is never worth their while to spend 50 minutes on one question that's stumping them, only to be so mentally fatigued that they do poorly on the rest of the exam. Certainly, you don't want to encourage your child to do less than her best, but she must realize that no one question is so important that it is worth getting bogged down on and upset over. There are always some questions that just seem baffling. Throughout the rest of this book, we'll show you how to show your kid how to make good guesses, keep her cool, and stay on pace when faced with a stumper.
In addition to teeing your child not to get stuck on one question, you can also encourage the "two-pass" approach to test taking. On the first pass through a test, your child should answer only those questions she can handle quickly and easily, skipping over any questions that leave her confused or require a tot of thought. Seeing a bunch of ovals fitted in right away often gives students a quick boost of confidence. On the second pass, tell your child to go a tittle slower, use process of elimination (a technique we'll discuss in a moment) to cross out any incorrect choices, and then take a guess and move on, The two-pass system is very helpful on the Reading and Math exams, since it allows your child to answer the easy multiple-choice questions before tackling the more difficult ones.
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