So You Want to Build a Good Tester?

(First, a disclaimer: this post is meant as a mirthful article imagining how someone might go about creating a good tester. It is NOT an endorsement of teaching to the tests, particularly for very young kids.)

Not surprisingly, most of the students we encounter in the test prep industry are seeking short to mid-term solutions. That's because by the time they contact us, the real tests are only a couple of months or weeks away.

But what if you wanted to build a better tester and you had all the time in the world?

The first ingredient would be TONS of Reading Skills.

It's no secret that every section of today's college admissions exams requires fluid reading comprehension skills. This is ironically even more true in Math and Science, where misreading one crucial component can lead to incorrect results. So until the tests unilaterally move to Free Response Questions a la AP exams or sections change to color recognition on computer screens, reading ability reigns king.

To be clear, use reading sources mostly printed on paper. They mimic how the real tests look and feel.

Some of the best genres to choose from are: fantasy, science fiction and history. These genres espouse creativity and engage young imaginations to think beyond the scope of "normal". "Normal" is regurgitating the same lesson your teacher just taught. Testing is the curve ball you are always thrown at the end of the chapter. That's the applied part of the lesson that doesn't fit the standard blueprint. It's the "we just learned how to find the circumference of a circle but why is this problem asking me how many times this wheel rotates" dilemma. It's the same thing, kid. The same thing.

History fits in nicely because it implicitly asks "What lessons can be learned" and "What should have been done differently". Personally, I grew up on Encyclopedia Brown, Choose Your Own Adventure and Calvin & Hobbes; all dated titles but nevertheless, books are timeless. You'd never think it, but Calvin taught me the word "anthropomorphism" and basic sociology.

The second ingredient would be a dash of Gamer.

But I don't just mean any kind of gamerism (sorry, COD fans). I'm referring mostly to board or card games that require considerations of arrangements (aka permutations). Think more Dungeons & Dragons and less Call of Duty. A slightly more contemporary example is Pokemon, but NOT the app. I'm referring to the way it was meant to be played: with cards and memorization of the different levels. The true Pokemon enthusiast can name the processes by which Charmander evolves into Charmeleon which evolves into Charizard, in addition to citing the various strengths, weaknesses and numeric levels required. Today's average app user sees a colorful lizard and walks to capture it.

Gaming engages one's creativity in a way that is rewarded by these tests. The mind is developed in a subtle albeit fun way that's not too far from Karate Kid training. It's a way of training the brain without feeling like you're doing it. (Editor's note: I clearly realize painting houses and washing cars in the original Karate Kid was likely not a fun process for Daniel-San).

The third ingredient would be a love of Puzzles.

Ever wonder how someone with a great GPA in school can struggle on these standardized tests? One of the reasons is that GPA inherently rewards rote memorization and consistent participation, usually in the form of homework, teamwork and positive classroom attitude. These tests, of course, care nothing about those things. They simply want you to choose the right bubble.

Doing puzzles not only increases the brain's intelligence quotient, it also develops the right type of confidence necessary for these exams. Have you ever met a noobie attempting a crossword puzzle? He/She treats each puzzle like a checklist, a chore that needs to be completed on the spot. Now observe a seasoned veteran; someone who casually picks up the Sunday version. Yes there is an intensity to the process, but that same person uses the puzzle like a mental exercise. The puzzle is put down, only to be picked up again later. There's a casualness to it.

Great testers approach exam problems in the same fashion. It's not a big deal right now to solve everything; I know I'll eventually get to all of it at some point. On math problems, you'll sometimes watch them doodling, as if playing in a sand box. Bad testers freak out when they can't think of EVERY step to solve the issue; great testers shrug when the first response doesn't work out and then they reset. Those are the lessons crossword puzzles teach you. For the record, other puzzle types such as Sudoku, riddles and brain teasers also work.

If you want an example of what a puzzle lover is drawn to, look up The Lady or The Tiger by Frank R. Stockton. This puzzle literally has no answer--it's meant to stimulate the mind and conversation.

Whilst I'm sure there are more factors to creating a good tester, these are the three I'd start with.

Don't worry too much if you feel as if you or your child doesn't exhibit these qualities. Remember, you can always learn to perform better on ANY test.

We just wanted to give you advice for the long haul.

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