Texas Taking Hints (TAKS)
As a teacher I’m asked ‘how to pass tests’ a lot… actually I”m asked for answers more than anything… sigh.
There are two basic types of tests, the content test and the standardized test. A content test would be a normal school test (say over the American Revolution). In this test, the goal is to find out how much you know about a particular topic. Most modern high school tests of this sort are multiple choice, but in college they will most likely be essay or short answer. Basically, it is difficult to fake your way through an essay test, so this gives the instructor a much better idea of what you really know. [That’s why all my tests have a short answer section.]
A standardized test isn’t so much about specific knowledge as it is about how to think. The whole point behind a standardized test is that it gives a comparison for each person against every other person that took it. Theoretically, this test would ignore any cultural bias or use knowledge that one group would have that another group would not. For example, a test question about gutting a fish would not be a good question because many kids would not have had that experience.
The TAKS test is supposed to be a combination. It’s a standardized content test. Every teacher is given a list of things that they are supposed to teach students (the TEKS – Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). The students will then be asked questions that may include anything from the TEKS. Unfortunately, the TEKS are somewhat unreasonable in what students are expected to learn.
Not surprisingly, students tend to do poorly on the science section of the TAKS. One reason is that students have to be responsible for 3 different sets of TEKS (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), not to mention lab safety, scientific method and general scientific knowledge. Unlike English, which is basically the same throughout school.
OK, on to the hints. These hints will help on any standardized test and will help a lot with the TAKS. Use them carefully, because there will always be something that doesn’t fit the mold. Indeed, it almost seems that TAKS questions are designed to trick the students more than testing for content knowledge.
1) Read the Question Carefully
This sounds stupid, but I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve reviewed a question that a student missed and they went ‘oh, I missed that part’. The tests always include questions that use the word not or except and that completely changes how you need to answer the question. If it helps to highlight things, then use a highlighter, but don’t highlight the whole question. At most, 4 or 5 words out of the whole question should be highlighted. Anything else just won’t help you.
When reading the question, pay special attention to the interrogative. That is the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘how’, etc. These will actually help you figure out how to know what the answer is. If the interrogative is ‘when’, then an answer choice that has ‘George Washington’ in it is not the answer.
2) Use the Answer Choices
Very often the answer choices (especially on the TAKS) will give you two completely wrong answers that are obvious. If you see two answers that say the same thing, then they are not the answer choice. There is always one best answer.
In the science test (and math to a point) you can eliminate answer choices that use the wrong units. If the question asks you to find speed and one of the answer choices is in joules, you know that isn’t it.
Also be sure to check your units in the answer choices. If the problem is given in kilograms, but the answers are in grams, then you have to convert.
3) Use Any Resources You are Given
In the science TAKS, you are given a formula chart. Even if there are no numbers in the question, the formula chart can help you!!!!!!!!!! If the question asks something about physics, go look at the formula chart before anything else. Very often, the answer can be found by understanding what the formula is saying.
Most of the modern TAKS questions require a two step answer. You have to use two formulas to get the right answer. So figure out what the question is asking you to find. Look at that formula. If they don’t give you what you need to solve that formula, then look at the other info they give and see if you can find a formula to fit that. Then put them together.
Pay attention to charts and graphs, but read the question first, sometimes, they aren’t even necessary. Other times, the answer is obvious if you read the chart or graph. Always check the x and y axis legends and the values. Determine what the line represents. Is there an obvious trend in the line?
4) Write Stuff Down and Draw Pictures
You can use the entire test booklet as your notepad. Write the formulas down. Draw a picture to help you figure out what is going on. Make notes about what you do know about the question (or answer choices).
You should, every time you have a formula, write down the formula that you will use. Then rewrite it with the values you are given (and UNITS!!!!). Then solve for what you don’t know.
I guarantee that punching numbers in the calculator will give you the wrong answer. One of the answer choices will be the most common calculator answer. It will also be wrong. Know what you are trying to do before even looking at the calculator. Write it all down first. Trust me.
I’ll put more down as I think of them. If you have anything you’d like to add or ask me about, then let me know.