Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gaming the ACT. Is that the right way?

Lots of tutors tell students that scoring high on standardized tests is more about ‘gaming the system’ and less about actually understanding the concepts that the test is supposed to be testing for. I think they have a point. But I think their understanding is incomplete.
The game-the-system camp are right that the test makers try to trick you with their multiple-choice questions. But what they misunderstand is that real life works the same way. In real life it’s easy to get tricked. And it’s especially easy to fool yourself.
The test makers aren’t so much trying to trick you, as much as they are trying to present you with types of test questions that you’ve never encountered before. It’s their only means of separating the exceptional people from the not so exceptional.
So, what are these so-called “tricks”? The “trick” is just to try to get you to misinterpret the question and it’s answer options. That’s it. That’s the goal.
And there are an infinite number of possible ways to achieve that goal. So you can’t just try to learn a handful of types of test questions and think you can cover all of them or even most of them. There will always be new one’s you haven’t encountered. The test makers will continue to invent new ways to try to trick you. And you’ll always encounter new ones, even if it’s only new to you and not to the rest of the world.
The solution here is to learn how to catch more mistakes in interpreting the questions and the answer options. More generally, it’s to learn how to catch more mistakes of any kind. In other words, we’re talking about improving your general reasoning skill. That’s the focus of my book _How to Get More Right Answers: on standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc_.
This reminds me of my college years studying Physics at Bradley. I remember students complaining that their professor would put problems on the test that weren’t covered in the lectures or homework. They thought that their professors were being unfair. But they’re wrong. That’s the point of the test! It’s to check your understanding of the concepts by changing up the situations so that you can’t just memorize your way through the material. It requires that you understand the abstract concepts thoroughly enough so that you can apply them to any situation that the concepts apply to. Any! That’s an infinite set.
Why do it that way? Because that’s actually how the real world works!! Like for those guys that locate utilities underground, there’s no such thing as studying every single possible situation and getting tested on all of them. These guys don’t have an infinite amount of time to train. They only have 3 weeks. So it’s an infinite set of possible situations, and what these locators do during training is learn all the necessary general-purpose information about electricity and other physics concepts, meant to be applied universallyto any possible situation that a locator can find himself in.

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