If you want to see what these tests look like to your kids, the Youtube video linked below will give you a fairly good idea. In it, three college grads – one from Yale, one from Stanford, and one from UC Berkeley – try out a couple of questions from standardized test given in South Korea.


One of the questions shown was missed by just under 82%, and the other by over 90%. One of the students notes that these percentages are worse than random guessing.


How come? Because these tests are designed to be tricky.


Here is a fill-in-the-blank question for you to try – see what you think:


“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship, or train. There is an almost peculiar correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind __________________ when thinking is all it is supposed to do. The task can be as paralyzing as having to tell a joke, or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees.”


Here are the answers the students chose from:


1. may be reluctant to think properly

2. may focus better on future thoughts

3. can become confused by multitasking

4. is likely to be paralyzed by fear of new tasks

5. can be distracted from what is before the eyes


What did you think? Believe it or not, all three of the college grads in the video got it right. On first glance we thought we could make a case for at least two of the choices. At that point – when you think you’ve got more than one answer that makes sense – you feel like you have to become a mind reader.


It becomes a less a question of “which one is the right one?” and more like wondering what the test makers wanted.


On the second time through, we saw pretty good reasons to eliminate one or two of the ambiguous ones. At that point we were able to narrow it down to the correct one: 1.


But kids who are hurrying through a test often won’t have the luxury of using up their precious seconds to look a second time.


This question was harder than just about anything your kids will see on their tests. But it does give adults a good feeling for what our kids are going through.


So is there anything that will help?




Exposing your brain to the test helps it learn the test’s language. After you’ve seen the questions over and over, you begin to understand what the test makers want. You even sort of learn to read their minds.


We know because we went through it. The first time we tried out these standardized tests, we wondered what the test makers wanted from us every bit as much as the kids do. But, just like learning a language, just trying the tests out – and learning from mistakes – taught us how to think like a test maker.


And every time we had to work with a new test, we made sure we learned to think like those specific test makers.




By the way, One of the other interesting points in the video was the degree of stress these S. Korean kids are facing – some of them to the point of suicide. Of course we all want our kids to succeed. And we think one of the most important things parents can do is to show their kids that they are capable of self-discipline and working hard. But it’s a good idea to gain a sense of when expectations become counterproductive, or even harmful.


Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNTwRSKVJLc