Game-Changer Checklist for High Test Scores


I wonder what exciting is going to happen today.


•   Get the feel of it:    Relax and mess around.

 The more fun you have the higher your score – guaranteed.

Browse.     Browse.     Browse

•   Do easiest questions first.

Rack up easy points: Build confidence.

Don’t make the test tough.

Use your own natural intelligence. Make common-sense guesses.

•  Use the way the test is put together to find answer clues and patterns:

Grammatical tip-offs, longest or shortest answers, and so on.

•  Watch out for absolute, definite answers; they are commonly false.

•   Answer all questions — even if instructed otherwise.  Your score will be higher.

•   When all else fails, choose the third answer.

   Tests are academic crossword puzzles.

Look for clues in other questions and even in multiple-choice answers.

•    Ask for clarification of ambiguous or flawed questions.

If necessary, explain your answer in the margin.

•    Think like your opponent. Psych out the test maker.

•    Don’t sweat questions you can afford to miss.

Mess around.    Mess around.    Mess around.

Tests into Puzzles III

Crossword 2LOOK . . . THEN LEAP.

Always look over a test — any test — before you start.


You’re  trying to get the feel of it.  What sort of a test is it?  Do the questions look easy?  Hard?  Do you see any item you can answer right off the bat?

Take a look at this test.  You’ll probably notice a trick question or two, the sort you’ve probably seen before.  OK, so it’s a trick test.  I’m tipping my hand here, but you could figure that out yourself if you browse it first.  Right?

So go ahead an see how many points you can rack up.  I’ll provide the answers the test-maker wants (not necessarily the most intelligent or thoughtful answers) and comment later on what I think the test really measures.



Test Your What?

Allow yourself a maximum of eight minutes. Then check your answers.

1. Allow yourself five minutes to rearrange the letters 0-W-D—
E-N-A-R-W to spell a new word—but not a proper name, nor anything foreign or “unnatural.” Write it out.


2. Quickly now: How many animals of each species did Adam take
aboard the Ark with him? (Note that the question is not how many pairs , but how many animals.)


3. What unusual characteristics do these six words have in common?
DEFT SIGHING CALMNESS CANOPY FIRST STUN (Please complete your answer within five minutes.)

4. Figure out this problem in diplomatic relations: If an international
airliner crashed exactly on the U. S.-Canadian border, where would they be required by international law to bury the survivors? (If you can’t decide within one minute what your answer will be, please go on to the next item.)

5. What is the minimum number of active baseball players on the
playing field during any part of an inning?

6. Figure out this problem within one minute: If one face of a cube
measures 2″ x 4″, what is the area of each of the faces, and what is the total area of all eight faces? (Jot down your answer in the margin.)

7. A farmer had 17 sheep. All but nine died. How many did he have left?

8. An archeologist reported finding two gold coins dated 46 B. C.
Later, at a dinner in his honor, he was thoroughly and openly discredited by a disgruntled fellow archeologist. Why?

9, A man living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, may not be
buried in a state west of the Mississippi River—nor in Hawaii or Alaska— even in the event of Presidential intervention. Why is this?

10. If you went to bed at 8 o’clock last night, and set your alarm clock
to get up at 9 o’clock this morning, why on earth—after 13 hours’ rest, especially!—are you so sleepy today?

11. If you had only one match, and entered a room to start up a
kerosene lamp, an oil heater, and a wood-burning stove, which would you light first—and why?

12. Quickly, now: Divide 30 by 1/2, and add 10. What is the answer?

13. If your doctor gave you three pills, and told you to take one every
half hour, how long would it require for you to take all of them?

14. Two men played checkers. They played five games, and each man
won three. How do you explain this?

15. Look at these phrases, for a moment, to get them firmly in mind:

Triangle  Words
Now look away and write down these exact phrases.


Answers and Comments


This is a test-taking test.

As always, you’ll rack up the most points if you’re relaxed and playful.  So you begin by messing around.

Browse     Browse     Browse

Yes, it’s a trick test, and  logical reasoning is actually a hindrance.  There are some old chestnuts here, and you’re likely to see the wanted answers to some of them right off. Once you know the game, you know how to play.

1.  If you try to work this out logically, you’ll use up your 8 minutes.  So if you don’t see the trick, for heaven’s sake, skip it! and do the easy questions first.  The wanted answer is  a new word.  The test-maker tries to make it seem hard by distracting you and uses your reading strengths against you: “Allow five minutes . . .” And so on.  Once you catch on, it’s a breeze.  He uses the same tricks over and over.

2.  OK, so it was Noah, not Adam.  All the surrounding stuff is there to keep you from noticing the word Adam.  Once you catch on, you can go back and check your answers.

3.  Most of the questions on this test call for the same kind of thinking and the same level of thinking, but this one is different.  So if you don’t see a solution right away, you should set it aside.  If you have time at the end, you can come back to it.  Answer: They all have alphabetical sequences of letters in them:   DEF, GHI, LMN, NOP, RST, and STU. [Unless the test-maker defines what he means by “unusual” there could be all sorts of “correct”answers .]

4.  The test-maker camouflages the phrase bury the survivors with underlinings, italics and helpful hints – all intended to take your eye off the obvious: You don’t bury survivors.  Shady salesmen write up contracts this way, too.  But you already knew that.

In any test, find out what’s really being asked.


Nervous test-takers tend to  skim questions or misread them.  Treat the test like hopscotch.  Rack up points.

5.  Oh, well, he wants the batter included.  Answer: Ten   If you wanted to get pushy about it, you could question what the test-maker means by “active.”  Usually everybody’s standing still till the pitcher lets fly.  And so on!  This is a poorly worded question.  You should annotate your answer in the margin – but nicely, of course.

6.  If you’re a math whiz, you could easily hurry with the calculation and screw up. You know perfectly well that all sides of a cube are equal, so a face can’t be 2 by 4.   This question is set up the way Number 4 is, isn’t it –  lots of diverting instructions.

7.  All BUT nine died.  Get it?    Same trick as the Noah / Adam question.

On any test helpful clues are scattered all over.

8.  Well, you should know this far into the “test” that the answer in right there on the surface.  The test doesn’t require knowledge of archaeology – or anything else!  If you don’t catch on right away, come back later.  B. C. might pop right out at you.

9.  A man LIVING should not be buried – no matter where he lives. There have already been a couple of questions like this –  2, 4, ans 7, for example.

10.  By now you know there’s bound to be something tricky in the wording.  The 13 hours phrase is a tip-off, but you can visualize setting the clock for 9 and hitting the sack at 8.  You can see what would happen.  The test-maker probably doesn’t have a twenty-four-hour clock.

If you take this question seriously, you can waste a lot of time.  This test does not require imaginative thinking, only familiarity with parlor games.

Keep your responses within the test-maker’s level of thought.

These questions are suitable for seventh or eighth graders, wouldn’t you say?

11.  A good reader thinks the word which refers only to lamp, heater, and stove.  The test-maker is counting on it.  But you know this isn’t a very sophisticated test.

On any test, you can actually build your skill with it as you go along. 

12.  Divide 30 by ½ .  “Quickly” throws you off.

If a question looks too easy, read it more slowly and more carefully.

How may halves are there in 30?  Now, that’s more like it.  Then you’re to add 10.  The wanted answer is 70.  But add 10 halves? Or 10 wholes —  which would be 20 halves?  Not that simple after all, but think at the level the test and put down 70.

13.  Visualize.

One, say, at 7, next at 7:30, next at 8.  Bingo: One hour.


Slow down when a question looks easy.

Rule: Relax if it’s hard.  Sweat if it’s easy.

14.  The test-maker leaves out information you need.  But this is a trick test, so you’re on to him and you see, aha!, they didn’t play each other.  This omission is deliberate, but teachers sometimes  inadvertently leave out needed information, too.

On school tests, if needed information is missing, ask for it.

15.  This question counts on you’re being a good reader.  Good readers read for ideas.  A copyeditor or proofreader  would see the wanted response right away, the duplications of THE, THE; A, A; THE, THE; and  AT, AT.

If you followed the lead of Question 1, though, you might have answered, “these exact phrases.”  But the test-maker isn’t all that swift, so you’d better go with the other answer.



Tests Into Crossword Puzzles II


Crossword 2








Want to get good at playing the piano?  Practice.

Want to get higher scores on tests?  Practice.

Here’s a “test” my colleague Karl Staubach made up to show how you can pull out answers from a test without knowing much at all.  This skeleton test has hardly any content, so you have to use test-taking experience to guess the answers.  In this “test” the game itself is clearly the subject, not history or calculus.

 How to Take a Test Without Knowing Anything
(Time Limit 15 Minutes)

Quantitative Reasoning

1.  What is the diameter of the circle in Figure (a)?

Circumference 1 Pic(a)

2.  Develop an equation for apparent loss of elevation due to curvature of the Earth: express unknowns in terms of feet and miles; show your work.

Critical Analysis

3.  How long does it take an inchworm to go a foot?

4.  This statement is false.     True/False

5.   Unscramble the following words, one point for each answer.

a.  TUTIWHO                b. GRAINDE            c.  PANETRAP
d.  MORNWICH            e.  RILACTIC

Reading Comprehension

6.  Blah ba blah blah because . . . ?

a.  blah ba blah blah.   b. blah blah ba blah  c.  blah ba blah ba blah,
blah, blah blah. d.  blah ba blah ba blah.

7.  Blah ba blah no blah . . . ?

a.  blah not blah ba blah.     b.  no blah ba blah blah.
c.  blah ba blah ba blah       d.  ba blah isn’t ba blah

8.  Blah ba never blah ba blah. . . . ?     True/False

9.  Blah ba blah ba blah . . . ?

a.  blah ba blah.         b.  blah blah ba.
c. blah: ½ blah.          d.  ba blah blah.

10.  Unknowns in equations for the Earth’s curvature are usually expressed in

a.  millimeters.    b.  feet and inches.
c.  miles and feet.   d. hundredths of inches.







Most people find out a little about hopscotch or poker before getting into the game.  So

Mess around  until you understand the game.  Then

Rack up all the points you can.  Then

Do the leftovers. 

       Use the test to answer the test.

10. You can get 14 points on this test, and if you browsed it, you’d have nailed Number 10 — because the answer is given away in Number 2.  Score: 1 point

2. Also, for me, actually figuring out  Number 2 looks like it would take a while, and I don’t think I know enough, so I’ll save it for last.  I’m after points.

1.  You could probably figure out Number 1, but if it makes you nervous, skip it for now.  (If you don’t know what a diameter is, ask the person giving the test.)  If you know what a diameter is,  use the line that’s 6 long as your ruler  to measure the diameter.


 4. No one can answer Number 4.   Test questions are often poorly written.  Karl put this in as an example of that.   If you have time left over, you could toss a coin and put a note in the margin, pointing out that it’s ambiguous.

 3. In Number 3, the test-maker left out the inchworm’s rate of speed — how fast he’s going — so you’d have to raise your hand on that one, or put a note in the margin — or put in a silly answer, and put a note in the margin.

Answer all questions.  You don’t get points for blanks.

 5. The answers to all five scrambled words in Number 5 are on the test itself. For example, MORNWICH unscrambles as INCHWORM, which is in Number 3. This question is worth five points, so use the test to answer the test.

6. Often clues to the wanted answer are in the wording.  In Number 6, there’s no content, so see if there’s a give-away in the answers.  Um, hum, answer c is longer than a, b, and d, so go with the most different-looking answer.  Also, when all else fails, choose third answer.  It’s not fool-proof, but the third answer does come up as “correct” more often.  Remember, this is a point game.

7.  Again, only one answer in Number 7 stands out as different-looking, c.  Answers a, b, and d all have negatives in them and c doesn’t.  If you choose any of the others, you’d end up with two negatives and a messy sentence, maybe even a frowned-on double negative.

8.  As you probably have noticed, teachers are not fond of making absolute statements.  So in questions like  Number 8, the answer is False.  If a definite statement is the wanted answer, it will have been pounded in so much you will know that and will mark it TRUE anyway.

9.  The gibberish in three of the four answers in Number 9 looks pretty much the same, but Answer c, blah:  ½  blah, is different.  Choose it.

Your Score

Here’s the deal.  If you don’t know anything but if you do know something about how tests are set up, you could pass this test with 11 out of 14.  Not bad!  Unless I’m into math,  I’d miss Number 2, but I don’t care.  I’m in this for points.  Numbers 3 and 4 are hopeless, but they’re poorly written.  I’d still put those notes in the margin; I might get something. Don’t be snotty, though; teachers have thin skins.

Like crossword puzzles, tests are full of information you can use to figure out answers.   Think of tests as puzzles, do enough of them, and  they can be more fun than crossword puzzles.

Turning Tests into Crossword Puzzles

Test Pics for Post

Children’s Games

  I have resented to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I could not be.
                                    – Robert Frost

The Testing Mania

There is so much wrong with giving each other tests I hardly know where to begin.  Your own sweet Self has no interest in the hoops other people think up for you to jump through.   You may be interested, though, in what’s going on in the back room where tests are invented.

Here’s a little inventory you can start with to get you tuned in to my  comments on this BIG MYTH that bankrolls the huge nation-wide test-making industry and keeps teachers up late at night dreaming up “questions.”


Mark only the ideas you agree with.  Then read the commentary.

□   1.  Tests measure how much you have learned.

□    2.  Tests are objective.

□    3.   Tests are fair.

□    4.   Tests help teachers see how effective their teaching is.

□    5.   Tests help you learn.

□    6.   Essay tests measure your understanding better than short-answer tests do.

□    7.   If it’s taught, it must be tested.

□    8.   To  get a high score, thoroughly understand the subject.

□    9.   Tests can predict how well you’ll do when you get a job.

□   10.   SATs identify the best students for college.


Commentary: What Tests Really Measure

Most people think the statements above are true, but research shows they’re not. It’s a sucker’s game.   Reflect on it a little; you’ll see very quickly that tests  interfere with what really matters – your journey through the realms of gold  – that is, your drive to live a full, rich life, the life your own biology insists on, not the straitjacket other people think you should wear. Once you see tests as crossword puzzles, though, you can actually have fun figuring them out, and when your Self is running the show, it’s always fun.IMG_1234

As you know, learning involves change, growth, and understanding, but tests don’t measure those things.  All tests really do is  measure skill in taking tests.  Do 150 bits and pieces of data reflect complex changes in you?  Do those bits an pieces come even close to all the stuff you body and mind have picked up?  Of course not.

I’ll get into some of the myths  in later posts.  Right now, though, I want to tell you about a test my students used to love.

A Test My Students Used to Love

I quit giving tests altogether a few years into teaching. I would have quit sooner, but I’m a slow learner. I thought I had to, even after I realized how destructive they are. I didn’t have to; my students  got along just fine for the next thirty years without them. But I always gave a name-game “test.” I would tell the students they have to know everyone’s name, one of the few specific trivia requirements of the course. There will be a test, I would tell them, in a couple of weeks. They knew very well I wasn’t really going to give them a test, but they acted like it anyway, doing all the stuff I used to hate about test games. “Do we have to spell them all correctly?” “How much time will we have?” “Can we just give first names?” “Can we have more time to get ready?” I pretended it was all very serious, too. I did want them to know each other’s names, but I certainly wasn’t going to grade them on it.

So one sunny day the students arrive, and it’s TEST day. As they file in, each student gets a number to wear and a roster. There is music playing, and the teaching assistants and I have set up a table with things to eat and drink. The “test” is to match the person’s number with a name on the roster. They have to get 100 percent or they fail.

Of course, it doesn’t take a minute for people to start cheating. They start going up to each other and asking their names. (Big surprise: Lots of them haven’t studied much.) The first thing you know the whole class is milling about, talking with each other. It turns into a jolly good time. Everyone is thoroughly enjoying the “test.” More than once I found a couple of guys erasing numbers from their rosters. That way, they had an excuse to talk with someone they were attracted to. Pretty smart, eh?


The one-and-only test day turns out to be one of the best days of the semester, and everyone knows everyone else much better by the end of the hour, wonderful enthusiasm, lots of positive energy. What’s amusing is that people actually turn in their “test paper” at the end. They really know how to play the school game.

As always, students think about the event in their reflections. (See my menu item Reflective Writing.) Often we talk about whether that really was a test. Then we get a chance to explore what a test is, what it is said to be for and what it actually is for. Is the name-game test a good test? If tests are learning tools, did everyone know more by the end of the test? Sure. Should you be allowed to cheat on a test? Depends on how you define cheat. Should the atmosphere be formal or informal? Which elicits your best performance? Should it be fun to take a test? Should it be on how much you know or how little? Is it really necessary to scare the pants off everyone in order to advance understanding of the periodic chart or whatever? Do you get to cheat in real life? And so on. Students are subjected to tests from the time they set foot in kindergarten onward. For many, reflecting on the name-game test is the first time they ever take a good look at what is going on.

So the name game and its test accomplish exactly what any traditional teacher would want and a whole lot more. It is only one example of what a multifaceted “lesson” can be. All classes can learn that way. Everyone, including teachers, would actually enjoy coming to class and experiencing what Goethe described as “a rich, manifold life, brought close to the eyes.”



What if your class got to list all the tidbits of your experience together?

In my classes we used to finish up a semester by going around the room and everyone would contribute something he or she remembered from what we had shared together.  Anything counted, no matter how insignificant.  We had a couple of students putting each item on the chalk board as we went around.  It felt wonderful.  It was as if each item had a spotlight shown on it.  Each bit was like a capsule that burst open and all sorts of memories flooded out. And the connections got better and brighter as we went along. There was so much. We filled up the board. We weren’t noticing how little we had experienced but how much.  We all felt great.  That is Self affirming!  Wouldn’t you think schools ought to be nurturing that?



Guess What I’m Thinking

Tests are games in which large numbers of players guess what the test-maker wants.  Like any other game, tests have rules: time and space limits, playing fields, equipment, arbitrary scoring procedures, number of players, winners, losers, referees. Playing the game is an end in itself. Getting ready for it is very different from getting good at French or engineering.  What you accomplish in literature, mathematics or welding is one thing; tests are something else again.  That’s all.

Figure out how tests work, get good at it, and you’re in business.