Taking Standardized Tests



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L~SSO~i Taking Standardized Tests

2.1


D

uring World War I~ the people who ran the United States armed services had a problem. They needed to figure out which of their new soldiers would make the best officers. They could easily tell, from what they were doing in basic training, which young men and women were the strongest, which were the best at taking orders, which could hold up under pressure, and so on. However, they needed to know more. In particular, they needed to know which soldiers were most able to learn and to think clearly.

In response to this need, they created the first standardized tests taken by large numbers of Americans. A standardized test is one that is given to lots of people to compare their abilities or to compare what they have learned. Such tests are common­place in the modern world.

Kinds of Standardized Test


Standardized tests come in two varieties:

aptitude tests and achievement tests.

An aptitude test tells what general abilities a person has. It is not supposed to measure particular knowledge that a person has gained. Instead, it tells how capable someone is of learning. For example, an aptitude test for becoming a typist might measure whether you can read and how quickly and carefully you can move your fingers—two basic skills that typists have to have. Someone who could move his or her fingers very quickly and carefully might

have a lot of aptitude, or general ability, for learning how to type. IQ tests are one kind of aptitude test. They are supposed to measure a person’s general intelligence— how carefully, clearly, and quickly he or she can think.

An achievement test tells what someone has already learned in some area. For example, after studying typing for a year, you might take an achievement test to find out how fast you can type. This book will prepare you for achievement tests that measure what you have learned about reading and writing in English. If you work hard and do the lessons in this book, you should have no problem succeeding at these tests. An achievement test measures what you have learned. If you apply yourself and have a positive attitude, you are bound to learn enough to pass the test with flying colors.
Why Are Standardized Tests Important?
Throughout your life you will take many standardized tests. You will probably take standardized state exams in high school. If you plan to go to college, you will most likely take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Testing (ACT) Assessment Test, which many colleges require of students applying for admission. Specialized schools, such as schools of nursing, may require applicants to show aptitude for the field of study by performing well on standardized tests.

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Lesson 2.1 —Taking Standardized Tests 45

If you plan, instead, to take a job immediately after high school, you will find standardized tests in the world of work too. For example, if you want to sell real estate, to do electrical work or plumbing, or to repair or install computers and computer networks, you will have to take standardized tests to become licensed or certified to do these jobs. Many states now require automobile mechanics to take achievement tests. Professionals, such as accountants, therapists, medical assistants, doctors, pharmacists, and lawyers, have to pass standardized tests before they are allowed to practice.

For those who want to find out what kind of work they might enjoy and do well in, standardized tests are available that match ability and interest with the skills and environments of suitable occupations. Even dating services sometimes use standardized tests to match people!

The ability to take tests well is a skill that can be learned. Learning this skill can help you throughout your life, making it easier for you to fulfill your dreams. Studying the lessons in this book will help you to do well not only on standardized exams in reading and writing but also on the other tests you will come across in your life.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness or worry about something that might happen in the future. We naturally feel anxious when we are confronted by new challenges or unknown situations. A little bit of anxiety can be a good thing. It can help to focus our attention, to make us alert and ready to act. Too much anxiety, however, can be extremely negative. Anxiety can keep us from performing as well as we

usually do. One of the reasons that people feel anxiety is fear of failure. If we are worried about performing, we may get in our own way and forget how to do the tasks we need to perform.

Many people feel anxious when called upon to perform in front of an audience—to give a speech, perform in a play, or play in a game with spectators watching. Some people also feel anxious about performing on tests. Feeling nervous, shaking, inability to concentrate, negative thoughts, and an inability to remember known facts are signs of this kind of anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety can cause people to do badly on tests. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with anxiety. Combat your test anxiety by taking the steps described in the chart on the next two pages.

To work in many fields, one must first become licensed or certified. Doing so usually involves passing a standardized examination in the field. Automotive repair, computer network administra­tion, electronics, law, medicine, and teaching are just a few of the career fields with standardized tests as entry requirements. All lawyers, for exam­ple, must pass a standardized test called a bar exam. Some states require prospective teachers to pass a standardized teacher certification exam.

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46 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment



4pproaching Tests With Confidence
Follow these strategies to overcome anxiety about taking standardized tests.
BEFORE THE TEST:
1. Prepare. The most important thing you can do to combat test anxiety is to prepare. If you are prepared, you have nothing to fear. The best way to prepare for language arts exams is to study the lessons in this book.
2. Practice. This book teaches many skills that will help you to succeed on reading and writing tests, but no book can give you all the practice that you need. Begin now to practice your writing skills by writing something every day. Keeping a journal is one way to practice writing. Write a few sentences, or better, a paragraph every day. You might write about: one of the day’s events; your feelings or opinion on some controversial issue or event in the news; topics that you are studying in class; something you really enjoy doing; a story, movie, TV show, computer game, book, or CD; your plans for the weekend; or your hopes and dreams for the future.

In addition, you should begin now to practice your reading every day. Magazines and newspapers are a good place to start. Read one or two articles in magazines or newspapers every day.


3. Build your vocabulary. Verbal skills are extremely important for success on language arts tests. Try to learn at least one new word every day. Keep a list in your journal of new words that you run across in your reading. You might use flashcards or find a website that e-mails you a vocabulary word every day.
4. Think Positively. Negative thoughts can cause people to fail, but positive thoughts can cause them to succeed. Researchers have found that when students believe that they will do well, their scores go up! If you start to have negative thoughts about yourself, recall something positive about you. Think, “I am doing all I can to prepare for this test.” Remind yourself of times when you have succeeded at difficult tasks.

Set aside a “worry time.” Allow yourself fifteen minutes a day for worrying. During that time, let yourself worry about whatever you want. If you start to worry -at some other time, tell yourself, “This is not my time to worry. I can worry about this at 7:15,” or whatever your time is.

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5. Simulate test conditions. Try to study in an environment that is similar to a real test-taking situation, for example, at a desk, not on your bed.
Gather ideas. If you are preparing to take a test that requires you to write an essay, have in mind several topics that could be developed into an essay. You might well be able to use some of those ideas in response to a writing prompt on the exam.

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Lesson 2.1—Taking Standardized Tests 47



r ~. Collect your mathHa ;ndf~ ~ ~ ~ : :: ~T:need to 1 bring to the test. Prepare yourself a healthy snack to eat during a break or, if permitted, during the test. The night before the test, organize the things you
want to bring with you.
8. Sleep and eat well before the test. Eat well and get plenty of sleep the night before the test. Set your alarm so you have plenty of time to eat a good breakfast and get to the exam on time. Resting and eating well will put you in peak mental and physical condition for the exam.
9. Go to the bathroom before entering the test room. This will reduce one source of stress during the test.
DURING THE TEST:
1. Don’t try to cheat. It isn’t worth it; you will end up losing much more than you gain.
2. Pay attention to directions. Listen carefully to any directions given by the administrator of the test. Read carefully any directions written in the test.
3. Budget your time. Find out how much time you have to complete the test. When you open the test, quickly look it over to see how long it is. Pace yourself to finish in the time allotted. When one quarter of the time has passed, see if you have gotten about one quarter of the way through the test. If you aren’t moving along as quickly as you should be, try to adjust your pace. If possible, allow a few minutes at -the end of the test to check your work and answer any skipped questions.
5. Don’t get bogged down. Remember, no one is expected to get a perfect score. There will be a few items on every test that most people will not understand. Answer the easy questions first. When you come across something that you don’t understand, remain calm and try to figure out what is being said. Use the strategies taught in this book to make your best guess. Don’t get stuck on any one question. Go on to items that you do understand. You may find clues to help you later on.
6. Take notes. If it is allowed, make notes in the booklet. For example, you might mark main ideas in the selections. You might circle key words or underline key phrases.
7. Develop a system to mark multiple-choice answers you have ruled out. You might put an “X” next to each answer that you are sure is wrong. If you have to come back to a question, you can see at a glance which possible answers remain. See Lesson 2.3 for strategies for answering multiple-choice questions.
8. Take a break. If you are given a break between sessions, get up and walk around. Eat your snack. Stretch. If there is no break, allow yourself a mental break. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and relax before going on. Some people are helped by such techniques as breathing slowly and deeply or by closing their eyes and imagining pleasant, quiet scenes.

48 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

V~ur Turn

A Answer the following questions about Lesson 2.1.


1 Standardized tests were first given to large numbers of Americans by

A colleges and universities.

B the Peace Corps.

C accountants, doctors, and lawyers.

D the armed services.

2 A test that measures a person’s

ability to learn to type is an example of an

A aptitude test.

B achievement test.

C oral examination.


D IQtest.

3 A test given at the end of a typing

class to measure how much a person has learned is an example of an

A aptitude test.

B achievement test.

C oral examination.


D IQ test.

4 A standardized test that people might take if they plan to apply to an undergraduate college program is the
A Graduate Record Examination

(GRE).
-~ B Bar Exam.


C Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

-f D Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).


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5 Anxiety is

A a feeling of uneasiness or worry about something that might happen in the future.

B anger about having to do something that one doesn’t want to do.

C fear of physical harm. D a feeling of confidence.

6 The most valuable thing that a

person can do to combat test

anxiety is
A not to think about the test.
B to prepare well for the test.

C to take the test at another time.


D to ignore the parts of the test that are confusing.
B No two people are exactly the same. Every person has special, unique abilities. Number a sheet of paper from I to 4. Then, list four things that you do well— four aptitudes that you have. Next, think about the aptitudes that you have listed. Given these, what sort of job or career do you think might be best for you in later life? On your own paper, write a paragraph explaining what job or career you think you might be good at and why.
C What will you do to prepare yourself to take standardized exams in reading and writing? Write a plan that includes supporting details from this lesson.
D Standardized tests are quite controversial. Do some research and hold a debate, in class, on the pros and cons of standardized testing.

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Lesson 2.1—Taking Standardized Tests 49



2.2 Exams
H

igh-school students in many states are required to take statewide standardized tests of English lan­guage arts skills. These tests are achieve­ment examinations. They are used to measure the achievement of individual students, schools, and school districts. The exams allow your teachers to see how well your school is meeting the reading and writing goals of the state. As teachers and administrators examine the test results, they will get a better idea of what your school can work on to improve the English language skills of its students. The reading and writing tests in this book are similar in content and format to such state-administered achievement exams.

Reading Exams

The Pretest and Posttest in this book are designed to give you practice in taking reading and writing exams. The reading portion of the Pretest and Posttest presents short articles, stories, poems, or other selections. After you read each selection, you answer questions about its contents.

There are two kinds of questions on the reading exam. Each of the multiple-choice questions asks something about the selection and offers four possible answers. From these choices, you must pick the one that best answers the question. The open-response questions on the exam ask for written responses. You should plan to spend about five to ten minutes answering

open-response questions. A complete, correct answer to such a question will answer every part of the question and will complete every given task. The information in the response will be correct, and the writing will adhere to the conventions of standard written English.

In the lessons in this test preparation guide, you will find practice selections and questions. You will learn how to read the selections efficiently to get the information you need. You will also learn strategies for answering multiple-choice questions. In preparation for producing written responses, you will learn how to evaluate, analyze, and interpret the selections and writing prompts, how to gather and organize your ideas, and how to produce clear, well-written answers.

Common Elements of English

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50 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

Writing Exams

The writing portions of the Pretest and Posttest in this book ask you to respond to a writing prompt. The writing prompt gives some background for the writing assignment. Then it gives directions that tell you what to write. The prompt will ask for one of three kinds of written response.

You may be prompted to respond with a piece of expository writing. Expository writing provides information about a particular topic. Here is an example of a prompt that asks for an expository response:


Background for writing:
The lives of human beings in the United States changed dramatically in the twentieth century as technology changed.
Directions for writing:
Think about how American life in the last century was changed by advances in technology.
Then write a description of how changes in technology affected life in the United States in the twentieth century.
A second type of response you may be prompted to produce is a piece of narrative writing. Narrative writing tells a story. It may be fiction (about made-up characters and events) or it may be nonfiction (about actual characters and events). Here is an example of a prompt that asks for a narra­tive response:
Background for Writing:
Life offers many opportunities to make decisions. Decisions are sometimes hard to make because you can’t foretell how events will unfold.

Directions for Writing:


Think about a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
Then write an essay that describes the situation you were in, the decision you had to make, and how your decision worked out.
Another possible type of writing that you may be required to do is persuasive writing. Persuasive writing attempts to persuade the reader to adopt an opinion or to take a course of action. Here is an example of a prompt that asks for a persuasive response:
Background for writing:
Students in some parts of the world attend school year round.
Directions for writing:
Decide whether high-school students in the United States would benefit from a twelve-month school year.
Then write a recommendation either for or against year-round schooling for American high-school students. Provide arguments to back up your recommendation.
As you can see the words expository, narrative, and persuasive do not appear in the prompts. Rather, they explain what the response must do: give information, tell a story, or make an argument for or against a position.

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Lesson 2.2—Common Elements of English Exams 51



Y~~r Turn

A The more familiar you are with this book, the more useful the material in it will be to you. Turn to the Table of Contents on pages iii—vi. Familiarize yourself with the topics that will be covered in the lessons. Note the material that is included in the Appendices. Notice also the Index of Concepts and Skills on pages vii and viii. Then look back over your Pretest. Make a list of at least three lessons in this book that you believe would be most helpful to you in raising your score on the Posttest.

B Do some research to find out exactly

which standardized tests are required in your state. Make a list of these tests and, for each one, record the subject matter it covers and when you are required or encouraged to take it.

C Work in small groups to produce an

example of a writing prompt that could appear on a writing exam. Write the background for writing and the directions for writing. Present your prompt to the class and have the other students tell whether the prompt calls for a persuasive response, a narrative response, or an expository response.

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52 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

L~SON General Strategies:

2.3 Multiple-Clwice Questions

M

any of the questions that you will encounter on reading exams will be in the multiple-choice format. This lesson will teach you the general skills you will need to answer such questions confidently.



A multiple-choice question consists of three parts: a direction line, which tells you

what to do; a leader line, which may be a question to answer or a sentence to com­plete; and several answers. Your job is to pick the best answer from those provided.

The chart below shows some typical multiple-choice formats. The questions are given only as models; the selection on which they are based does not appear in this book.

Answer the following multiple-choice questions. Base your answers on the article “The Earliest Americans.”


What was the name of the landmass over which the first

Native Americans traveled to get to the Americas?

A the Bering Strait

B Beringia

C Alaska

D Siberia


2 The archaeological dig at the Dent site showed that ancient

Native Americans hunted

A woolly mammoths.

B saber-toothed tigers.

C dinosaurs.

D the pygmy horse known as Eohippus.

direction

line


leader line — 1 answers

Multiple-choice

formats:
Question I is in question-and-answer

format.


Question 2 is in sentence-completion

format.
Question 3 is in fill-in-the-blank format.

3 The oldest cave art in the Americas, from the ________ ________ rock shelter in Brazil, dates to at least 10,000

years ago.

A Mesa Verde

B Pueblo Canyon

C Pedra Furada

D Crow Flats

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Lesson 2.3—General Strategies: Multiple-Choice Questions 53



for Multiple-Choice Questions

Winning

Strategies

When answering multiple-choice questions, keep the following tips in mind:
~ If you do not immediately know the answer to a question, go on to the other questions and come back later to the one you cannot answer. Answering the other questions might provide a clue to the answer or help to jog your memory.
Before looking at the answers, decide what you think the answer is. Then see if your answer is among the possible responses.
~ Eliminate obviously wrong answers first. Then choose the one that seems most likely from the answers that remain.
~ Before you take a test, find out whether extra points are taken off for wrong answers as opposed to answers left blank. If not, always make your best guess. If you guess on a question with four possible answers, there is at least a 1-in-4, or 25 percent, chance of choosing the correct answer.
If you can eliminate one wrong answer and then guess, your chances of choosing the correct answer are 1 in 3, or 33 percent.
If you eliminate two wrong answers and then guess, your chances of choosing the correct answer are 1 in 2, or 50 percent.
If you eliminate three wrong answers, then the remaining answer must be correct!
Remember that on multiple-choice tests, you are supposed to choose the best answer to the question. If one answer is partly right, look for another that is completely right.
~ If the multiple-choice question is a sentence completion or fill-in-the-blank type, then check your answer by reading the whole sentence, with the answer in it, silently to yourself. (Example: “The archaeological dig at the Dent site showed that early Native Americans hunted woolly mammoths.”)
~ Pay particular attention to negative words in leader lines, such as not or except. (Example: “Which of the following was not a signer of the Declaration of Independence?”)
~ Also pay attention to any words or phrases that tell how many, such as all, many, most, some, none, or a few. (Example: “According to the speaker, all

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