Monday, August 18, 2008

Standardized Tests 2008 Pt. 2

Teaching to do well on a standardized tests requires a different approach from teaching simply to pass a test designed, given, and monitored by the teacher.

The main difference is that correctly answering the questions on a standardized test need not always require knowing how to answer the questions algebraically. The same tricks and strategies useful on the SAT and ACT is directly applicable to any standardized exam. Any reputable SAT book will provide a list of practical strategies to use during the test. This can help the student answer questions that he/she could not have answered without the strategies, which in turn can help boost the students score.

Another helpful technique is to compile a bank of practice exams, Kaplan provides a series of practice exit exams, so does Barron's and Princeton Review. Since the exit exams are specific to one state the number and variety of practice exams are smaller in number when compared to the SAT or the ACT. So in this case we have to improvise and utilize the exit exams from other states, the standards from state to state are similar enough that their practice exams can be helpful. Once again Kaplan, Barron's, and Princeton Review provide the practice exams for other states as well, in my case I considered using the practice exams from Massacheusetts and New York. In addition the New York Regents exam is also of great use.

Another good suggestion is for the teacher to take the practice exam him or herself under timed conditions. In this manner the teacher can determine which questions might be more difficult than others. Also, the teacher can develop multiple ways to answer the same question-this is one of the most effective techniques for standardized tests. I usually encourage my students to answer the question in more than one way, the most obvious way is using algebra though it is not always the most efficient way. So I encourage the students to develop alternate ways to answer the question; trial and error, eliminate obviously wrong answers and guess, measure with a piece of scratchpaper, test the answers. You can also combine multiple strategies, algebra + trial and error, trial and error+test answers, measure+test answers, etc. The more ways your students can answer a question the higher the chances they can correctly answer a question on the test when the algebra is too difficult. Sometimes I tell my students that they can answer the question using any method they want, except algebra! This really gets them to think.

Sometimes you may want to challenge the students in different ways to see if they can adapt, so sometimes I give them a test at a level higher than would be expected. Sometimes I give them a test with different types of questions, for example comparisons or arithmetic type questions etc.

One should avoid simply teaching the material without teaching the strategies mentioned above. Covering only the material does help improve the student's score but a much slower rate. One should avoid simply reading from a textbook, the best advice is to teach but verify, meaning teach a concept, then give the students a couple of examples to do and go student by student to determine if each student understands. Another techinque is to use progressive understanding; every mathematics problem can be broken down into a series of simple steps. For example suppose a student cannot solve the following problem:

Solve for x: 3x+9 = 18

So you say ok, can you solve this problem: x + 9 = 18, most of the time students can solve it, x = 18-9, so x = 9. If the student can't solve it, usually it is very easy to explain how.

Ok so then you ask, can you solve this problem: 3x = 27, most of the time students can solve it, x = 27/3 = 9. Once again usually it is very easy to explain.

Then you return to the original problem: 3x+9 = 18, then give them a little hint start with the 9 just like you did before in the easier example, worry about the 3x later. So they start 3x = 18-9 so 3x = 9. This looks very similar to the problem before, why not try the same technique, usually the student understands at this point. At this point I usually give the student several of these problems to make sure they understand how to solve it, then I have them explain the solution process to me in detail.


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