What Good Testers See


If you don't consider yourself a particularly skilled test taker, it can be very frustrating to witness other people be more successful despite your greatest efforts. At times, you may find yourself asking "What do they get that I don't?"

The reality is that what you should REALLY be asking is "What do they SEE that I don't?"

Rarely is lack of knowledge the deciding factor on these tests. It's usually a lack of VISION.

Let's take Math, for example.

Here's a typical word problem you might encounter:

"Marcellus and his 2 roommates went to the furniture store to purchase a couch for their apartment. Coincidentally, the store they visited was running a 30 percent discount on all purchases made that day, along with a 7 percent sales tax on the discounted price. If the total amount they paid was d dollars, how much did each person pay individually?"

Firstly, this example does not include answer choices so please don't try to actually solve it. The basic look is what you need to see.

An average or poor tester reads this description and almost immediately begins to feel a sense of panic. That's because what he/she SEES is the entire word problem. Another typical reaction is to think of all the necessary steps to solve the problem, whilst keeping all of these thoughts in his/her head. While this tactic is totally appropriate for other things in life, it is a rather bad strategy for a pressurized, time sensitive exam. Finally, another way to ruin his/her chances off the bat is to read and re-read the description in hopes of truly grasping every detail of the question. That's what I call the rabbit hole.

A good tester sees the word problem as a block of words that could simply be labeled "Word Problem". Recognizing the structure immediately puts his/her brain into a mode that says "One step at a time". An even more experienced tester might remember that the first sentence of a word problem is usually just colorful backstory, and even though it may contain numbers he/she will use later, there isn't any real math to do from the opening statement. Sometimes, you can just cross off the first sentence since it's useless.

Since I mentioned VISION earlier, here's how a good tester might actually see the same word problem:

"Marcellus (ONE PERSON) and his 2 roommates went to the furniture store to purchase a couch for their apartment. Coincidentally, the store they visited was running a 30 percent discount on all purchases made that day, along with a 7 percent sales tax on the discounted price. If the total amount they paid was d dollars, how much did each person pay individually?"

Here's another way to look at it from a purely conceptual perspective:

"Marcellus and his 2 roommates went to the furniture store to purchase a couch for their apartment (IGNORE MOST OF THIS FIRST SENTENCE EXCEPT THE FACT THAT THERE ARE 3 PEOPLE). Coincidentally, the store they visited was running a 30 percent discount on all purchases made that day, along with a 7 percent sales tax on the discounted price (THE SECOND SENTENCE GIVES ME NUMBERS I NEED TO PROCESS WITH THE 3 PEOPLE MENTIONED ABOVE). If the total amount they paid was d dollars, how much did each person pay individually?" (IGNORE THIS LAST PART UNTIL I'VE CALCULATED SOMETHING FROM THE FIRST PART)

Notice the massive difference? Good testers absorb mostly the mathematical qualities of lengthy word problems and ignore the distracting fluff.

Most importantly, notice how a good tester doesn't even consider the actual question right away.

There is a feeling out process at the beginning when a good tester is simply trying to identify the TYPE of problem in front of him/her. Remember, this isn't a test of individual math problems. It's a test of recycled flavors with different packaging meant to trick you.

So if you're not that great with word problems, you first need to realize how your initial viewing of the question contributes to your ever-increasing anxiety. You know you've fallen for the trap if you're sitting there scratching your head, thinking of all the steps you need to take to solve the problem.

Learn to sort through the chaff and focus more on the numeric content of the word problem, one step at a time. You should find that this is a great technique to settle your nerves and improve your scores at the same time.

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