Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Test Prep 202 - Verbal

I've been dragging my feet on addressing the verbal section of cognitive skills tests because there is so much material to organize.  Unlike figure matrices, it's not as easy to write artificial intelligence software that groups words by their properties like you can do for shapes.  Is this possible?

Well, that's exactly what I did for Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking, and no, it was not as easy.

Here is the result on youtube.

I don't spend a lot of time writing about verbal topics in general because the problem has been solved. The math curriculum in the United States is so bad that studying math before 6th grade in a US school can actually make a child dumber (aka decrease cognitive skills), whereas there has been an explosion of amazing literature for all grade levels in the last 15 years, and lots of outstanding works like The Read Aloud Handbook, Every Book is a Mystery, and the first 30 pages of The Well Trained Mind just to name a few.

In Math House we spend about 15 to 30 minutes on math each day and 100% of the rest of the time engaged in reading, vocabulary, and critical thinking activities that are all verbal in nature like arguing who's Minecraft Command Block is more lame.   Math House will most likely produce lawyers who like to write books, and I will someday likely conclude my blog in failure by announcing that I produced children who could win a Fields Medal if they would just bother to study graduate math but refuse to.

The parents who are most in need of help on the verbal section are in three groups - those who's kids perform well on the other sections but don't on verbal for no apparent reason, those who are behind in either reading or the English language or both, and really strong readers who should be at 99% but just can't seem to translate all of that reading to a cognitive skills test.  That's a pretty broad range, but the basic approach is the same regardless of level.

The videos don't answer two important questions that I didn't see until after I was finished:  How hard is this test?  Does your child really need calculus and Medieval European Literature in 1st grade?  Of course not.  Secondly, how do you deal with alternative answers that both appear to be correct?  These are pretty exciting questions to me and I'll delve into them next.

Here is a summary of what to expect.

First, everything I said about figure matrices applies to verbal analogies, sentence completion, and classification.  To increase the score in the short term, simply take a verbal question and do what I did in the video with the figure matrix.  I think I'll start by doing exactly this.

Unfortunately, if that's all we had, I wouldn't count on a score above 75 on verbal.  The fact is that test prep on the quantitative and non-verbal sections adequately builds cognitive skills not only in the topical area, improves academic performance in general, but also greatly increases test scores, whereas explicit test prep on the verbal section is almost impossible.  Helpful but hard to do. In the past I've recommended a strategy of focusing on the quantitative and non-verbal sections to improve scores because point-for-point, it's the most effective use of limited time.  I have a solution to this problem.

The quality of verbal test prep questions is generally lower than the other sections and less fruitful. The raw material and latitude of the test makers is much wider.   A shape has a limited number of attributes - the arrangement of angles and sides, dimension, and color (thus the title Shape Size Color Count).  A word has many, many more.  Spelling, usage, physical dimensions, context, number of characters, multiple meanings, opposites, synonyms and on and on.

But didn't I mention before that I'm in one of those 99% cutoff school districts? Didn't I state that we spend the majority of our time working on verbal?  Aren't all of my rivals families of really strong readers.  Yes, all true.  Brace yourself, the Math House is about to reveal it's true identity.

The videos focus a lot on coaching and targeting the skills that the tests measure, but I don't go into a long list of sample questions.  I never do this with parents or with kids and never needed to.  I'm more than happy to respond to any question on any question from any book.  Just send an email to getyourchildintogat.com with a picture of the question and we'll play Stump the Academic Coach.

Let's do some verbal!

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