How to Take a Test

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As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most eye opening aspects of my volunteer work has been how much personal attention many students need in order to complete their work. From a very young age I was known to handle things for myself (my mom always tells me how I taught myself to write by looking at a poster of the alphabet and asking her what letters I needed for a word) so it was very shocking for me to be around students who had trouble reading short news articles, taking little quizzes, or writing basic sentences.

Along with the required STEM projects for the after school program, students are also required to take two online reading quizzes a week. While most of the kids fly through the assignments without a hitch, some can barely make it through the first paragraph without asking for help.

On one particular occasion, I noticed another volunteer working with Opal on a reading quiz who seemed to be getting very impatient with her; Rather than helping her here and there on challenging words or questions, the volunteer was simply giving Opal the answers without teaching her how to figure out why it was the correct answer. Knowing this wouldn’t benefit her in the long term, I decided to step in and help teach Opal some test taking strategies that I remembered from high school SAT Prep courses.

I started by sitting down next to Opal and asking her what her news article was about, and we started looking at the post-reading questions one by one. Rather than telling her the answers, I would try rewording the question if it was phrased awkwardly or reminding Opal to eliminate answers she knew were wrong. Other tips included referring back to the original text in order to verify an answer, and the best ways to guess as a last resort.

For the entire first test I worked on with Opal, she would try and double check her answers with me before submitting them in the program. Rather than confirming or denying her answers, I would shrug and tell Opal that it was up to her to make that decision. While she still missed a lot of the questions, by the end of the test Opal was catching on to the methods I had shown her and required slightly less prompting.

However, Opal reached a point where she once again needed assistance; she had to provide a written response to the article. Rather than telling her what to write and how to get the most possible points, I decided to have Opal explain to me what she wanted to say in her response before trying to type it. Even though she was able to explain to me in great detail her ideas in response to this article, she was growing impatient with the test. The majority of her peers had already finished and were getting ready to play a board game and she was anxious to join the game before they started. Quickly, she typed up a two sentence response to the article and submitted the test without listening to any advice I scrambled to give her on the writing. Overall, Opal scored a 78% on the test, which was a high score for her. She excitedly ran over to the director of the program and shared the news before going to join in with her peers.

When I arrived the next week, I was informed that Opal had waited for a day when I was volunteering again to work on both of her reading quizzes for the week.We sat down and began working on the first test right away, and while she still needed my help here and there, I could tell Opal was generally understanding the tips I had given her and was doing her best to apply them. This time, we talked out the writing section of the test a little more, but Opal stuck to her two sentence response again. Her overall score came back as an 85%. We took a short break and talked about how the day had been for both of us and what we were looking forward to the most when we each went home for the evening. Once Opal felt refreshed, we dove into the second quiz. This time for the multiple choice, Opal really took her time, focusing on each question and answer option. Finally, we were down to the writing section and I was determined to ensure Opal wrote a fuller response than the previous two. In the end, we got her up to three sentences instead of two for the critical response and she scored a 93% overall on the quiz.

While progress was (and, in a way, still is) very slow for Opal on the quizzes, I chose to be patient and show her the respect and kindness that she deserved while helping her with the quizzes. In the end, I feel that my efforts were absolutely worth it. In two weeks, Opal went from scoring mid 50s on the quizzes to the 80s and 90s range, because of the help I had provided her.

Interactions such as this one are the type that make me wish I could continue my service project into the summer or next semester; I knew I was making a difference and I wanted to continue making that difference.

How is your “kindness challenge” going? What impact do your deeds have on those around you? What are your future plans for your project?

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