Columns, Imagine That

Creative kids and standardized tests

Laura Mann

Schools kill creativity,” laments Sir Ken Robinson in his famous TED talk. Robinson describes how modern schools are dependent on test results to gauge how kids, and the schools as a whole, are doing. He explains that, as a result of this attitude, highly creative students often fall through the cracks. Just as we are finding that IQ tests are very poor at determining such vital brain functions as problem solving and imagination, we know that most standardized tests are an accurate barometer of how well kids take tests, but not how much they have learned.

So what is the creative child to do? High-level creatives don’t always do well on these cookie-cutter exams. We can wring our hands over standardized testing all we want; the cold truth is that it’s not going away any time soon.

Luckily, test-taking can be made easier for your child. The following are a few tips that can help one get through challenging exams. There is no substitute for paying attention in class, but these tips can assist a worried test taker.

1. Create momentum. Look through the test answering all the easy questions first. It’s easier tackling the difficult problems if your brain is pumped up with happy endorphins from answering a few easy questions.

High-level creatives don’t always do well on these cookie-cutter exams.

2. If the test is multiple choice, first eliminate choices that you’re sure are wrong. Use your pencil to cross out the wrong answers on the test packet itself. Write very lightly so you can erase the pencil marks before you turn in the test packet.

3. Don’t leave any question blank! If you randomly guess on multiple choice tests, you may accidentally get the question right. If you don’t answer it, you’ll be sure to get it wrong.

4. On essay questions, write a lot. If you have no idea how to answer the question, start by simply repeating the question back, using your own words. For instance, if the question is, “Describe the influence of To Kill a Mockingbird on race relations in the U.S.,” I’d start by saying, “When To Kill a Mockingbird was published, it had a dramatic effect on the way we look at racial discrimination in this country.” This doesn’t contribute to the answer yet, but it can build momentum to push you toward the right answer. Rephrasing is one way to demonstrate that you understand the material.

5. Make your handwriting as neat as possible. This may be a bit of a pain, but it does matter. It’s true, neater tests tend to score higher. Handwriting need not be a lost art.

6. Write it down. We remember 40 percent more when we write stuff down. Take advantage of the last class before the test, and try to pay attention and take notes. If your teacher doesn’t write stuff on the board, and they ramble so much it’s difficult to take notes (I’ve had teachers like this!), look at the textbook, and write down definitions of every term in bold print. If you photocopy a classmate’s notes, look at the copies while you write the notes by hand. This kinesthetic memory retention trick really works.

7. Teachers are not infallible; they do make mistakes, and even those who are very good won’t connect with every student. If your child has trouble with the material as presented by their teacher or has trouble studying from a book, go online and find videos that have to do with the subject matter. The remarkable Khan Academy (located at khanacademy.org) features videos that deal with subjects from arithmetic to physics, and the presentation may help out kids who just aren’t meshing well with their own teachers.

8. Finally, get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast. Rested and fed test takers consistently score better.

So there are a few tips from a creative student who learned to be a successful test taker. Imagine that!

Laura Mann graduated in Emerging Media and Communications from the University of Texas, and writes for The Dallas Observer. She also provides media assistance to the MediaWise Movement.

© Michael Mann, 2013, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.

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