Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Hard is Hard

I'm really pleased how my video exposé on Verbal Analogies turned out.  When I presented my strategy for preparing verbal analogies, it seemed a bit over the top, to say the least.  I feel obligated to set the record straight.

Many parents are confused at first on the differences between a cognitive skills test, school work, standardized tests in school, and IQ tests.  The test prep routine we followed was daily, relentless (all 15 to 20 minutes of it), and we covered a lot of material, as in a stack of books.  It can't hurt to over prepare unless you do it the wrong way.

But a cognitive skills tests is not about how much the child knows, but how well the child thinks on his own with no help from the parent.  The goal of the cognitive skills tests is to identify children who could be strong academic performers in an accelerated program that is more hands on and less spoon feeding.

The goal of most classrooms is to walk the child step-by-step through the definition of a concept, provide plenty of examples so that the child doesn't have to figure out its nuances, and then assign a worksheet to practice the knowledge of this concept.   There is no learning during this process, just the transference of knowledge of the concept.  In a worst case scenario, under Teach To The Test, understading is also sacrificed and the goal becomes a correct answer on the test.

A cognitive skills test measures learning skills, and the average classroom does not teach learning, and the average school tests learning skills for GAT entry.  I call this injustice.

A standardized test measures the child's knowledge of grade level vocabulary, reading techniques, and math concepts.  A standardized test does 2 other things that are a bit surprising.  In order to make the tests shorter, the tests incorporate the techniques of cognitive skills tests.   These appear as short cuts, tricks, a bit of confusion, a games with the answer set that make the solution strategy less linear. I think they do this because it is a much better predictor of academic performance and future academic performance than a long list of routine problems, plus it decreases publishing costs.   Secondly, the probability of a strong performance on a standardized test (above 95%) is greatly enhanced by being a year or two ahead in a subject.   This is obvious on the MAP test, but it also appears to be a factor o the ITBS and SAT.  I have a few theories of this but no statistical rationale.

This is where 'how hard is hard' comes into play.  Even with a standardized test, the challenge is not with a grueling list of concepts that must be regurgitated from memory, like doing 30 long division problems within the time limit.  This is what most people think of as 'hard'.  Instead, the challenge is trying to figure out which of 4 bad answers is the least bad (and thus correct), or determining that the solution can be derived from a small but innocuous part of the question.

Cognitive skills tests do not include a long list of concepts and vocabulary.  Instead, the concepts are common for the age group, but are carefully chose for their properties of depth, ambiguity, unusual permutations or hidden or double meanings.  In short, high cognitive content.  These concepts are then put in a maze and the child has to find the cheese.

Is it possible to take all of the practice tests on the market, do all the problems, and thereby gain an advantage?  This is the approach of popular test prep websites.   The answer is no.  A pile of practice problems certainly helps understand the format of the test, but does very little to advance problem solving skills.  It might instead engender speed and sloppiness which are counter productive to a high score.  I actual tried this once and it was a big disappointment.

What if you made a bunch of super hard problems, much harder than practice tests, and then on top of that superimposed multiple problems into a mega problem?  This is exactly what Test Prep Math does (ages 8-10) and it appears to work wonders.  The jury is still out as to whether it works because the actual test is easy in comparison or because the impact on working memory is so strong that working memory crushes everything in its path.  Half of the problems in Shape Size Color Count (which I consider Test Prep Math Level Zero) work up from the bottom an methodically build cognitive skills from the ground up.  SSCC is design for 4 year olds, after all.  It is not possible to "work your way up" on figure matrices with older children because this isn't a cognitive leap like it is with a 4 year old.  It won't work with older, more advanced 4 year olds either.

Test Prep Math is not a vocabulary course, and vocabulary is the other driver of cognitive skills. Unlike problem solving skills and all things math, there is a huge payoff to subjecting your child to every word definition you can think of from the ground up and from the sky on down.  If you've only got a few months before the test, and haven't been doing this since birth, the 3rd or 4th video on verbal matrices on my youtube channel explains how to make the most of your time with vocabulary.

IQ tests are a step up from both standardized tests and cognitive skills tests.  No term or concept is off limits.  The questions go beyond figuring out to fast tedious repetition during the solution stage.   A 99% on a cognitive skills tests means the child is prepared for a very strong academic performance. A 99% on an IQ test means the child will get a PhD in some obscure low paying field and would rather unscramble a palindrome than design a marketing program for a new product.  That adequately summarizes my research and interest in IQ tests.

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