Monday, July 17, 2006

GED practice continues

Over the weekend, I completed the Reading and Science sets of my online GED practice tests. The reading went as expected -clearly, I know how to read. The science tests threw me several surprises, but I managed to struggle through. I need to study up on proteins and gene pairs and some other "stuff." I had some trouble with black rats and white offspring.

Still, the practice tests are bolstering my confidence in a big way. No matter how lost I felt, I managed to make a minimum of 60% on each subtest, usually more like 70-80%, with three to six subtests in each GED subject area. To earn my GED, I'll need at least 65% total in each of those subject areas: Writing, Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Math.

That last area, Math, is the one that I expect to be weakest in. I loved algebra back in high school, and I don't recall having trouble with math in general, but let's face it: I haven't had to take a math class since then, and other than some basic arithmetic it just hasn't come up much. I might read about and discuss science topics, history, geography. I certainly use reading and writing. But math?

So this weekend, I got through the Reading and the Science, and then I decided to do the Math... and the very first question that popped up had me staring blankly at the screen. "Duh... What's that supposed to mean?" Quickly, I closed the browser window.

What is it about math, I wonder, that scares some of us? This morning I went back to the math topics and worked my way through them, and I did fine. Not great, but certainly passing. In the process, I learned some key concepts, and on a fresh set of questions I'd be willing to bet my score will improve. But that first time I brought the test up onscreen, the vocabularly looked unfamiliar, and where in other subject areas I would try to work out the meaning, with math I said, "yikes, I don't know this, I can't do this."

Is it because I've heard so many people say, "math is hard"? Is it because in math, I expect there to be finite answers, so I expect my own knowledge to be cut and dried? Know/not know?

In the end, these GED tests are not really about knowledge. They're about logic, combined with experience. Sure, some of the questions would be impossible to answer without some of those aforementioned "key concepts." But enough -certainly enough to pass- can be deciphered with plain old "reading comprehension."

If the GED is a good representation of the abilities we expect our high school grads to possess (not by any means guaranteed), then two skills are crucial: Reading, and a willingness to create or discover an answer, versus simply regurgitating one. What are our schools doing to address that second requirement?

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