Illustration: How identifying a "puppy kicker" can make you a better test-taker.

Partial True vs. Partial False Testing

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No puppy-kickers allowed!

Photo: David LaSalle, Instructor at STATMed Learning

By David LaSalle, STATMed Learning Instructor


Imagine you had a friend who came to you in great excitement and told you, “I just had the best date!  This person is funny, smart, attractive, a great listener, there’s just one thing… when we were walking down the sidewalk after dinner they saw a puppy and went out of their way to kick it.”

What would your response be?  I would hope it would be “Drop that psychopath now!  I don’t care how many things are right about them, that ONE THING makes them a terrible match for you (and a frightening creep)!”

Some bad test-takers approach answers like your friend approaches potential partners —  looking for everything RIGHT about them and sweeping under the rug anything that is WRONG.  This is—sorry to be blunt, but—an AWFUL way to approach answers!

Here’s why: in any decently constructed test question, there will be a range of viability in the answer set.  One or two answers might be just plain dumb and easy to knock out, but then that leaves 3 or 4 answers that are all fairly decent.  This means there will be 3-4 answers that will each have several attractive qualities.  If we just go looking for answers with attractive qualities, that quickly leads us to “well, I know it’s one of these, but I don’t know which one… now what?” 

So what do we do instead?  We stop looking for answers that are PARTIALLY TRUE and start looking for those that are PARTIALLY FALSE!  Instead of hoping that there is an answer out there that rings a few bells, we start out trying to find evidence to knock every answer out.  If we can’t find any, that answer gets to stick around.  If we do find a knock against it, though, that answer is GONE. 

The STATMed rule on this, and it’s a strict one, is: “If an answer is partially false, it’s all false, and you have to slash it out!” This is so powerful that I’ve seen this one rule radically transform people’s testing.  This is so powerful that if I had only five minutes to teach someone to be a better test-taker, this is one of the strategies I’d teach.  Put it to work today and see what happens — you deserve better than a puppy-kicker!


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