Sunday, January 13, 2019

Test Taking Strategy and Reasoning

A friend's daughter told her that she can ace almost any test because she knows how to take tests--she reasons well. I told students that story the other day and then we talked a bit more about reasoning. I watched students take the test and talked to them afterwards--those who were able to reason, did better.

What is reasoning, how do you do it, and how can you teach this skill?

As students prepare for yet another test this week, I'll direct a few lessons towards reasoning questioning, analysis, and skill with the following focus:

  • To reason first requires that you read the question carefully, underline key words, visualize the situation, and work out the solution/answer before looking at and choosing from the answer choices.
  • Reasoning requires the skill of doing all calculations on paper and then checking your work--when you do calculations in your head, you can't check your work and you're likely to confuse the numbers when you right them down.
  • Reasoning requires that you break down words you don't know into the parts you do know.
  • Reasoning requires that you ask the teacher acceptable clarifying questions such as can you read this word for me, am I on the right track, and other questions. Even if you think a teacher can't answer it, try it out--better to try than to stay stuck.
  • Reasoning requires that you ask the question, "What would the test makers of this test want a student like me to know--what's a reasonable question and what would be a reasonable answer."
  • To reason well benefits from looking for patterns, relationships, and value. You may use many tools to do that:
    • Drawing pictures of what the words are asking or reporting is a helpful strategy for making sense of a problem.
    • Using number lines can always help you solve a problem.
    • Solving a problem w/a simpler number always helps. For example if you forget how that fraction line works as a dividing line, you can simply remind yourself that 1/2 = 1 divided by 2 = .5
    • Using landmark numbers can help you reason too--making an estimate with landmark or benchmark numbers can give you the ball park answer, and then you can choose the answer closest to the ball park answer.
It's often not natural for young students to make time for good reasoning think and skills when they take tests. In fact one child told me that she just skipped questions if they seemed difficult; she didn't reason at all. I know the child and I know that if she had some reasoning instruction and practice, she would be able to test much better since when I've worked with her, her mathematical instincts are solid.

Do you teach students how to take tests? Do you teach students how to reason? Do you explicitly teach reasoning tools and strategies? This week I'll focus on that as I give students the tools and skills to take the next systemwide assessment. Then as they take the test, I'll notice who is taking the time to reason and I'll use those observations and the final results to inform the instruction going forward.

What would you add to this? I look forward to your ideas and additions.