Monday, April 3, 2017

Institute for Experimental Testing

This weekend was a typical test prep weekend for me.

Chicago is about to release test scores for grade school entrance.  Parents will share their good news and bad news on this page of  I'm going to read the comments wondering if their's anyone I can help but mainly wonder why parents think their child is going to magically end up in the 99th percentile through some mythical genetic lottery.  I'm much happier with an education system where gifted kids earn it, not to mention sticking it to people who think education is some sort of genetic class system.  I will make one or two comments to help a few people, and I will be rewarded by snide comments from the gifted caste about how wrong it is to try to improve the education lot in life for a child.  Cpsobessed is still my favorite blog.

The time to start test prep is the day after the last loss of the season.  Michael Jordan knew this, and could be found in the gym the next morning after a loss.  (I'm totally making this up but it sounds more inspiring than me making my kids study the day after the test, which is what I do.)

I'm slowly going over Test Prep Math level 2 after a reader found some mistakes in the solutions.  I'm on question 67. These are great questions, but require careful reading and concentration.   My 3rd grader is going to start Level 3 soon, which I already corrected completely (I think) and released a new edition.  I'm trying to delay using this book because one question from each section of Level 3 during the summer is an awesome math curriculum.  There is nothing in any math book more complicated until algebra proofs.    I've finally decided that my ideal curriculum is Test Prep Math followed by 8th Grade Algebra 1, with pre-algebra thrown in to make sense of some of the 8th grade math.

I've found out that some kids (you know who you are) are doing the Test Prep Math problems using a pencil to write down and solve equations.   While this is totally awesome, and beats a kid who gets B's in math because he refuses to write things down, please make your kids do these problems mentally.  Each problem, especially section 2, will take longer and need more attempts, but the tests DO NOT ALLOW WRITING in the book, and you don't get scratch paper.  Someone please confirm this if your 2nd or 3rd grade child just took a test.  The main reason for building the brain capacity for solving 2 or 3 equations at once - it's called working memory - is because by 6th grade, and especially by high school, all math requires writing AND solving the equivalent of 3 equations in your brain at once.  This is called Algebra 1, and it only gets worse after that.

In between 4th grade and 6th grade, the College Board SAT Test Prep book second edition 2009 is the best test prep book of any kind on the market for any use.  The light blue and light green on the cover are really ugly, even worse than the colors I picked for TPM.  This edition is out of print, but there are plenty of unsold copies on amazon for $1 or $2.    I'm really disappointed that this edition is replaced, but having an academic coach recommend a book to 11 year olds probably motivated them to fix it.  I just bought a copy for use the summer after 5th grade.  Maybe after 4th grade.  I didn't write TPM to be the path to awesomeness in reading comprehension, but if you see any of the questions, you'll know what I think this turned out to be the best part of TPM.

Right now, our basement walls are covered with shapes and shape transformations.   I challenged my middle school team to come up with any shapes or transformations that I did not think of.  They proceeded to embarrass me by doing so.  If this were just an exercise in cheating past the COGAT figure matrix questions for kids who are visual-spacially disadvantaged, I wouldn't use their goofy ideas, but I'm thinking way beyond that. Way beyond.  My model is an 8th grade transformations book.  I'm probably 3 months way from completing this.  Maybe 6 months for people who want both great questions and correct solutions.   This time, I'm going to put this disclaimer in the solutions:  "The solutions may or may not be correct because the author thinks that once you look at the solution, learning has stopped so he never bothers to use them."

But that's not what I'm excited about.  I'm excited about our experiments with the reading comp.  I'm referring to the big kids (age 12) and a more rigorous SAT book than the one I recommended above. I challenged them to answer questions without reading the passage and defend their logic.  Then I repeated the process after I removed the solutions from the book, which is what you have to do with smarty pants kids.  I'm amazed at the amount of common sense and logic that applies to the questions.  Then I asked them, "Would you be able to apply common sense and logic to these questions if instead you had to read a very complicated passage first?"   My favorite kid responded,  "we would never do that," meaning bother to read the question.   But I think this is the key challenge.

After dinner, it occurred to me that the completed reading comp questions probably have new vocab words.  We should start doing these in a low pressure, some-at-a-time situation.   We came up with 30 words for the word board (the refrigerator), and 5 extra from my child quizzing me from I also discovered that Mr. Need-To-Know-Basis will talk your ear off after 9:00 pm.  This is good to know.  If he wants to talk after 11 pm as a high school Junior, then I'll have to stop getting up at 5am.

While I was putting 'desultory' on the board I found out that I've been misusing it for 25 years.   This is the kind of word that only appears on the GRE and SAT.  You would just confuse readers by using it. But the other words all are vital.  Each word on the board represents a thought that my child wouldn't have otherwise, and I'm not talking about good vs. bad, but words that encompass a whole page of logic and thinking.  Vocabulary Workshop helped us retire the Word Board, and the demands of next year's testing (coming soon) are going to help us put it back.


  1. What would you recommend to prepare for a test for algebraic reasoning or abstract thinking? What type of tests do schools tend to use that are not conceptual math but indirectly measuring Algebra readiness.

    1. As a matter of fact, if you google 'test of algebra readiness' you'll win the jackpot. These tests come in 3 types. The first is a test to determine if the student has mastered pre-algebra math and doesn't include abstract thinking. The 2nd is for remedial college education use. The third looks to see how far the student is on the algebra 1/algebra 2 spectrum. Here's an example: There is nothing like a cognitive skills test that presents general abstract problems. The main feature of a good test beyond pre-algebra concepts is whether or not the student can translate a problem into x's and y's and then solve it. I've been experimenting with this and my rotten kids just try to solve the problem to spite me. Apparently, there's a big gap between abstract thinking and writing an algebraic equation. I don't see anything that is not conceptual math, because algebra has a long list of conceptual math concepts as prerequisites.

  2. You are spot on. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Are you still in the Chicago area (I live here, too)? Do you coach children other than your own? I just discovered your blog this weekend after searching for information on the COGat test--my 3rd grade daughter's scores just arrived and they were lower than expected given her past results from other tests. I was wondering if you could help or I could email you with questions? Thank you, by the way, for all this work and publishing this. It's heartening to see the effort and attitude but also, I have to admit, heart wrenching to think about what I should have been doing all these years.

    1. I only coach children in conjunction with my research or unfortunate friends who show up at my house wanting to play video games, who then find out about the Math First rule. Feel free to email me. I'm norwood.chicago (east side, not west side) on gmail. The best time to get started is always right now, preferably age 15, but alas there are so many demands on kids before then. Recently, I was amazed at watching a slug of a 7th grader suddenly turn genius on me. There is no age cutoff.