Thursday, June 25, 2015

Test Taking Strategies for the COGAT

There are 2 types of test taking strategies.  The one that I get asked about frequently is the one you must avoid teaching explicitly at all costs.  The other one addresses the challenges of a cognitive skills test.   This article presents both.

Normal Test Taking Strategies
The three most important strategies we all learned in high school include thoughtful guessing, managing the time, and answering from context.  Thoughtful guessing is eliminating 2 choices and picking from the remaining two.  Managing time is not spending too much time on the hard questions and saving them to come back to.  There are a few more but this is the most you could hope to teach a child.

The problem with children is that they don't have enough judgement to exercise either of the first two strategies.  At one point a few months before the test, I taught one of my children how to guess.  We were well into test prep for the first test, and some of the questions were really hard.  I thought guessing might be useful.  He understood what I explained.  Later, I came back to find most of his answers incorrect.  He explained that he guessed on most of them.  Despite damage control, this went on for the rest of the month.

Guessing is a tool that children aren't ready for.

Telling him to skip and come back to a question would be worse because of the unlikelyhood of him coming back to the question.  During the test for 1st graders, the test proctors stand there and make sure all the kids are answering the correct questions.  I'm not sure skipping is allowed.

Imputing the answer from context or looking for clues in the questions may not be appropriate on a cognitive skills test because the questions are 100% context and the test maker is leading the child to the incorrect answer as part of the test,  not the other way around.   I don't think this really applies here.

Unfortunately, on the OLSAT there was at least one question that required the child to eliminate the wrong answers and pick the correct answer which was a word beyond their vocabulary.   I'm going to guess that other cognitive skills tests do this.

The Good News
I've been touting Vocabulary Workshop for a long time now but I've haven't been clear on all of the reasons. First, vocabulary is a powerful weapon for the intellect, and it appears to raise IQ scores just by being in the brain.  Secondly, these non-verbal tests are shown to be highly susceptible to strong vocabularies.  Some researchers seem to think that there's the concept of a non-verbal test doesn't exist.

There is even a better reason of all to use a vocabulary book.  The reason is that it teaches guessing, time management, and answering from context. (I should try harder not to push a single publisher because I'm not making any money from doing so but Wordly Wise is sterile and I don't trust most workbook publishers because they produce crud.  I'm going to switch to Vocabulary Connection 2nd grade this summer because one of my readers mentioned it.  I'll report back what I find.).

More importantly for a cognitive skills test, my kids now skip back and forth between the questions, the definitions, and the answer set.  This is probably the most important skill for the test.

What kid wants to wake up to a vocabulary assignment on a Saturday morning?   The book starts with pick lists at the first level, and my kids just skip around, do the easy ones, and then fill in the harder ones later. There are many questions with 2 to 4 answers to pick from.  They guess from context all of the time, and I've watched their accuracy improve over time even though the words are beginning to be out of reach of their intellects.  Vocabulary questions are all about context.   Saturday mornings are all about guessing and finishing.

My practice on Saturday mornings is to assign the work and then collect it when it's finished.  I'm usually cleaning or otherwise busy, and I'll grade it later.  I'll circle anything wrong, and by that time, the kids usually know it's the other word they didn't know so they don't have much to do.  Since they're already doing extra work, I just let it go if they have a bad day.  Plus, mistakes in this house mean learning so no one cares if there are 10 correct or 5.

As a direct result, they just zip through the work efficiently and quickly, like little guessing machines. Sometimes, after a job well done, they don't remember the definition of any of the words, so I post them on the refrigerator and slow the unit down to a 2 or 3 week effort.  (The downside of this experience is that they treat some of their less interesting subjects this way and I am working on that.)

Test Strategies Specifically for Cognitive Skills Test
Most of the test strategies that I've taught are designed to break bad habits.   The term "bad habits" is generous; the term "dumb habits" would be more accurate because these tendencies below are not associated with academic achievement.  Many readers have lamented the struggle with their own children, the seemingly hopeless quest to have them do well on a stinkin' practice test.   If you would have sat through a practice test with my kids early on, you would have been sobbing by page 2.

The first problem is that some kids might make up their own rules for the test.  Analogy and classification questions are the worst.  Even going in to the last month, my child was picking the wrong answer to classification questions using this logic:  "I pick the Banana because none of the other ones are yellow".  The rule is pick the one that doesn't belong because the other 3 are alike in some way.   I prayed there was no question with a banana.

If you sit with your child on a practice test, go back though the questions together and have him explain his logic so you can make sure he isn't making up rules.

The next two problems are that the child runs through the question (or the figure that makes up the question part) too quickly, or picks the first "OK" answer instead of reading all of the answers first and picking the best one.   In the case of cognitive ability tests, multiple things can be happening in the question, but the child won't know which one until he surveys all of the answers.  Sometimes, he has to go back through the question after not finding his assumed answer to try again.  Sometimes what happens is the question is an obvious but unimportant thing, and a subtle but very important thing.

A good strategy would be "Read the question, read all of the answers, then read the question before picking the best one".  I came up with a little 4 step mantra and made my son memorize it.  When the children were called, I heard one mother say "Go do some fun problems!"  while I was yelling "Tell me your test taking process one more time."

#1 Read the question (which by now he knew what I meant) and #2 look at all of the answers before answering.

#3 "If they ask you whether or not you want to continue, demand more test questions." Many parents reported their child was asked this during the test a few years ago, and then we all lived in fear that our child would be weeded out for lack of answering enough questions.  This turned out not to be the case for the OLSAT or the COGAT.  Nonetheless, we discussed the importance of answering all of the questions.   It doesn't matter how these tests are graded.  There isn't any room in the the 95% for skipping answers and the there is no time limit.

Finally, rule #4: "Don't pick the banana."

1 comment:

  1. I know you mentioned a while ago that you take your kids to plays or musicals as often as possible. I recently took my kids to a play and they really loved it. Wondering how often your kids see plays or musicals a year and how do you select shows to watch.