I wanted to share a question a mom from Florida asked me yesterday because she brings up a problem that so many parents struggle with. Her son is very smart and does super well in school. His teachers for the last 2 years have recommended him for the school’s Gifted and Talented Program. Each time he is tested, however, he misses the cut-off and can’t get into the program. She is a member of www.TestingMom.com. When she works with him on practice questions from the site, she observes that he is impulsive and doesn’t consider all the possibilities before choosing an answer. She asked me if there was any way to help him with this.
The answer is YES! There is. It is so important to realize that when you do practice questions with your child, he is learning 1) how to handle the substance of different types of questions whether it be math, analogy or “What Doesn’t Belong” items, and 2) how to answer a test question, which involves reading (or listening to) the whole question, considering each possible answer, eliminating answers that are definitely wrong, and choosing the answer that seems most right. These are two very different skills.
If you have a child who doesn’t listen well to questions, doesn’t think them through, doesn’t consider all of the options, here is what I would recommend that you do. Select a group of age appropriate questions to work with. These can be practice questions from a test your child is not taking. Here, you are working on test-taking skills, not practicing for a particular test.
Ask your child the first question. Instead of having her go right for the answer, ask her to tell you why each answer choice is either right or wrong. Then have her select the best answer. You can let her know if she is correct or not. Either way, talk about how well she thought through the question, or what she might have missed in her thinking so that she can do better next time.
Now go to the next question. Do the same thing with this question. And so on. By getting your child to articulate his thinking, his answer elimination, and his ultimate choice, you are teaching him how to think through, analyze and answer test questions. Later, when he is actually tested, he will know to go through this process in his head. He will not rush to mark an answer!
Many tests, such as the OLSAT and CogAT, have subtests that require children to listen carefully to questions, remember them, and then answer them. In going through this process, you might discover that your child isn’t hearing the entire question. Maybe she isn’t paying attention, maybe her mind is wandering, but she isn’t focused! Once you discover that, tell her to “put on her listening ears” each time you read a question. Concentrate on getting her to focus and then go through the analysis described above. Even if you only work with a few questions this way, you will be teaching your child the skill of listening to, analyzing, and choosing answers to test questions. This will help her when it really counts!
Finally (and this is “advanced” test taking when it comes to younger children), when your child isn’t sure about the answer, you want to teach her how to eliminate answers that are definitely incorrect, and then choose between the answers that seem possible. When you are talking through your child’s analysis of a question, talk to her about how she is sure that these two answers are wrong, so just focus on the ones that could be right. Still not sure? Make your best guess! By learning to block out the options that are definitely wrong, this will help her focus and increase her likelihood of doing well.