The Knewton Blog

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Living Life as a Test-taker

Posted in Knerds on September 11, 2010 by

Matthew Busick is a Content Developer at Knewton.

At Knewton, we live and breathe standardized tests. It’s our job, but the frightening thing is that we actually enjoy what we do. I guess it would be fair to call us nerds (or Knerds, as they’re known around here). Walking to the bathroom or on my way to grab a snack, I’ve actually heard the following sentences:

“Just because I said that shirt looks good on her doesn’t imply that it looks bad on you. Your logic is seriously flawed.”

“I believe you’ve misunderstood my argument in one of the following three ways.”

“If I were trapped on a desert island, the one book I would bring would be Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.”

Though it’s not necessary (or perhaps even healthy) to nerd out to the same degree, it is wise to apply test-taking strategies to your everyday life during the months preceding your test.  You may start to notice grammar and logic errors popping up constantly while chatting with friends, reading the newspaper, or browsing online. If you hear your sibling say, “Earlier I laid down for a nap,” you can note that the proper past tense of the verb to lie is lay, not laid. When your friend asks, “Is Fred and Ginger coming?” think to yourself: It should be “are Fred and Ginger coming?” And the next time you and your significant other are engaged in a heated argument, take a moment to wonder, “What is the unspoken assumption on which her argument depends?”

Being this anal retentive in your daily life is not advisable all the time (you’ll go insane), and if you constantly verbalize your clever observations, you’ll probably find yourself with few friends (unless you happen to work at Knewton). Imperfect grammar isn’t always a bad thing either; it can allow for greater creative freedom and ease of expression.  Some of our greatest writers sprinkle misplaced modifiers, parallelism errors, and redundant language all over their masterpieces. When it comes to being a test taker, however, you need to speak like the Queen of England (and even Her Majesty lets slip a linguistic faux pas every now and then). These tests are not interested in your distinctive speaking style or creative turn of phrase. They’re interested in your knowledge of the rules.

The trouble is that in everyday life, as a culture, we break the rules of grammar and logic all the time. It’s virtually impossible to watch the nightly news without coming across at least one serious error in reasoning or to play a video game without stumbling upon a dozen egregious grammar and punctuation mistakes. The good news is that you can use these errors to your advantage. Whenever you notice and correct them (in your head, of course), you’re essentially doing test prep homework without lifting a pencil. Most people don’t notice these mistakes because they’re not in the habit of thinking analytically, at least not outside the context of their studies. If you get into the habit of thinking critically about language and reasoning in your daily interactions, such nitpicky mental habits will seem natural come test day, resulting in a less stressful experience and ultimately a higher score. The real trick is then being able to switch them off…