Use Your Pencil

A photo for our tip "Use Your Pencil"

I know students see me as a drill sergeant…

Whenever I work with students, I bark at them to have their pencil on the page at all times and to actively cross out incorrect answers. Inevitably, a student barks back at me that he is crossing out and to get off his case. (Sorry boys, it is usually one of you who barks back!) Well, the dainty little slash that he put through the letters “A,” “B,” “C,”…. does not count in my book!

When you cross off answer choices, cross off the entire answer, not just the letter. I like students hunched over their test (Sorry mom – bad posture!) with the pencil on their test page. The act of reading an answer choice and putting a line through the PART of the answer choice that is not correct will lead you to the correct answer. Remember, for an answer to be correct it must be 100% correct. On the SAT and ACT, answer choices look correct, but there will be one or two subtle words or ideas that make the answer incorrect. So, an answer might “sound” correct when read quickly, but when you “touch” each word with the pencil you will find the mistake. Please read the following excerpt from a reading passage:

In contrast, Caroline’s book had been skewered. She wrote in a slangy, contemporary voice, full of topical, popculture allusions. She wrote about Marilyn Monroe and moo goo gai pan, about alien babies and her strange, loopy obsession with poultry. She was roundly dispatched as a mediocre talent.

Now look at this question:

The lines “She wrote about…poultry” serve to provide examples of

(A) particular references found in Caroline’s poetry

(B) diverse subjects about which Caroline knew surprisingly little

(C) allusions in Caroline’s poetry that puzzled critics

(D) topics that should not be mentioned even in modern poetry

(E) images that are found also in Marcella’s poetry

Most students narrow down the answer choices to A and C, and then pick C because they like the word “allusions,” which comes directly from the text. WRONG! If you were using your pencil to touch each word in the answer choice, you would have noticed the word “puzzled”. Where does it say that Caroline’s allusions puzzled critics? NOWHERE! So you then would have eliminated that choice and picked the correct answer, choice A.

So the next time you are reading, hear the drill sergeant within you yell, “Use your pencil!” and listen!

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