The SHSAT and Understanding Yourself

In our business, which is so focused on the process of teaching and learning, we, as teachers, often forget the importance of reminding our students that standardized exams are as much about strategy as they are about knowledge.  In the case of an exam like the SHSAT, often it is even more essential to understand the types of questions and formulas the test uses than it is to have a knowledge base of the subjects tested.

This fall I tutored five students on the SHSAT exam, a test that, if mastered, allows eighth graders into the exam high schools of their choosing.  Each of these students was unique and had very specific strengths and weaknesses.  Every individual was exceptionally bright, but in a myriad different ways, which made it incredibly difficult to assess their intellect, or their capacity to function at a specific exam high school, through a single, standardized exam. 

The student who struggled the most with the math portion of the exam, for instance, was a kid who had skipped a year of math based on her extraordinary ability to comprehend mathematical concepts (as decided by her sixth grade teacher).  This student (let’s call her Rose) performed terribly on her first diagnostic SHSAT on the math portion of the exam, not because she couldn’t grasp the subject as a whole, but because the concepts tested on the exam relied heavily on a student’s comprehensive knowledge of seventh grade math.  Rose never learned seventh grade mathematical concepts, because she was deemed so advanced that she skipped right to the eighth grade, and then ninth grade work.  Mathematically, she was advanced, but on this particular exam, she was at a disadvantage.  We worked together during our study sessions on key concepts and formulas that she missed by skipping that year of math.  Because she had a bright, mathematical mind, she picked up concepts and strategies quickly, and was able to increase her math score from the diagnostic to the actual exam by twenty five percent.

Another student, also highly intellectual, struggled with slight Asperger’s syndrome.  He had the misfortune of being placed at the start of the year in a class with a math teacher who did not understand him, nor his style of learning.  Because of a lack of attention on the teacher’s part, my student was convinced that many of the questions on the exam were placed on there just to stump him.  He had a great deal of anger, and frustration when it came to the math on the SHSAT, and he allowed that frustration to get in the way of his progress.  He would give up before honestly assessing the problem.  After really listening to the student, and working together on his personal learning style, he was able to figure out a process that worked for him.  For this student, it was less the content, which he actually understood quite well, when he was able to tackle it head on, and more the emotional block, which prevented him from objectively trying to solve the problem.

All students have their individual strengths and weaknesses when it comes to academic learning.  It is unrealistic to think that one, standardized exam can work to assess thousands of students’ academic abilities, or potential for learning.  Our job as tutors, teachers, or parents is to teach kids that they have all the tools they need; they are enough, just as they are.  They just need to figure out the strategies that work best for them in order to understand the concepts, and the tricks of the exam, as well as to overcome the fear and anxiety associated with an exam that they feel can heavily affect their futures.

By Emily Tuckman

Teacher and Tutor

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Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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