Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Test Strategy

Yesterday afternoon my 16yo took the sample SAT test included in her prep book, and in the evening we sat down together to score it.

I'm not a demanding or pushy parent by any stretch, but I have to admit that my heart was sinking as we totted up the number of questions that were either left blank or were wrong. There wasn't any point in flustering her, but I did start to question my entire schooling ethic. Had I been so lax that we'd learned nothing? Maybe I was failing my children academically? Maybe the final score wouldn't even be college-material -- not a moral failing, of course, but not indicative of the abilities of a bright child. She too could see how things were trending, and her shoulders drooped the further we went. By the time we finished marking all the answers, we were both rather puzzled and distressed.

The score didn't actually make a lot of sense, so we hunted around on the SAT website until we found the metric for calculating what the equivalent final score would be for the raw answers we'd turned out for the PSAT. You had to look up the raw number of correct scores for Reading, Writing and Language, and the total of both Math sections. Those translated into a number that was close to the raw score, but not quite the same. Then you added the adjusted Reading and the Writing scores together and multiplied by 10. The adjusted Math score was to be multiplied by twenty. All this jiggering finally resulted in a number that was recognizable as an SAT score. In our case, it turned out to be a quite respectable number, and we sighed in relief -- and in triumph, because our detecting and calculating had been to good effect and had cheered us considerably.

As we analyzed our data, we realized that the test is not necessarily designed with the idea that every question will even be answered. In fact, you can get a perfect numerical score without answering every question, or if some of the answers are wrong. So, with one more day left to study, we built a test-taking strategy.

1. Go through quickly and answer every question that she can answer easily. That will take care of missing some shoe-in questions at the end of the test sections. For the math section with calculator, that means answering all the graph and word problems first, because those are much easier for her than the equations.
2. Go back and spend time on the lit and writing questions she knows she can solve but needs more time to answer. Work the basic equations.
3. Work through the hardest questions, if possible.
4. Since there's no penalty for wrong answers, guess on the ones she can't answer. Leave nothing unanswered!

As all the questions she missed on the sample test were the harder ones, this strategy will almost automatically guarantee her a higher score on the actual PSAT than on the sample one. And that's something that can build confidence right there.

This morning she went through the sections she hadn't completed in the test time yesterday, setting a time limit and answering questions according to this strategy. This garnered her some more correct answers, and a lucky guess in the math section. We'll see if all this strategy pays off tomorrow, but we're feeling cautiously optimistic right now.

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