As experienced test-takers know, there are tricks to doing well on standardized tests. Here are some AIMS-tailored tips:

· Take as long as you want. The state has ruled that test shall be untimed. Don't allow an uninformed instructor to take the test away from you before you're through.

· Answer every single question, whether you know the answer or not. There are no penalties for wrong answers, only credit for right answers. On multiple choice questions, if you guess, you have a 25 percent chance of guessing correctly. Last year, one fortunate Arizona student who had had no higher-level math classes actually passed the math test. Either the kid's a genius, or he/she was the beneficiary of chance and sailed through by guessing. Statistics dictate this will happen to one in 2,000 students. It could be you!

· Use your best handwriting. The tests call for a hand-written essay and numerous short-answer sentences. If a grader can't read your penmanship, you lose. We know this is tough for all you tech-heads, but time is on your side. You have worlds enough and time to shape your letters artistically.

The reading test, 40 questions strong, is first up Monday. You will be given several passages of fiction and nonfiction to read, as well as practical writings taken from things like manuals or grocery store labels. Read the extracts and then answer the questions. The questions will be both multiple choice and short answer responses, meaning you have to write some sentences. Be sure to answer all questions completely. If you're asked for an example, give one. You'll lose credit for an incomplete answer. Refer back to the readings and make sure you can justify your answer by what you find in the text.

The first half of the 96-question math test is given Tuesday. The questions will be primarily on algebra, with some measurement and logic thrown in. This is your chance to show off your knowledge of monomial expressions, exponents, square and cube roots, radical expressions, absolute value, linear equations, inequalities, graphing, rudimentary trigonometric ratios and other fun stuff. Again the questions will be multiple choice and short answer. In multiple choice, try checking your answer by estimating -- is the answer you got by computation in the ballpark? Having all the time you want means you can check your pencil-and-paper calculations to your heart's content. Remember; no calculators allowed. For the short answers, the authorities want to see all the steps you used to solve the problem. You get points off for not showing your procedures.

Math part two is on Wednesday. This test is mostly geometry. Today you can shine by defining different types of lines (intersecting, parallel, perpendicular and coinciding), plotting points in the coordinate plane, applying the properties of a geometric figure in a real-life setting, using the Pythagorean Theorem, deciphering lines represented by algebraic equations, and determining whether figures on a plane represent translation, reflection, rotation and/or dilation. And don't forget all you know about the characteristics of triangles, angles, circles, prisms, pyramids, cones, cylinders and spheres. In your short answers, make sure you write about your procedures logically, using given definitions, postulates and theorems, showing how you arrived at your conclusion. Again, guess if you have to, write clearly and check and re-check your answers.

Thursday brings the final test, writing. This exam requires multiple-choice and short-answer responses as well as the "extended writing response," known everywhere else in the civilized world as the essay. There are 40 questions. The government expects you to take at least two or three hours on this test, because you have to compose the essay from first draft to final copy in one sitting.

You'll write your essay in response to a "prompt." The state naughtily offers the following as a sample prompt: "People are always looking for ways to improve schools, and some of the best ideas come from students. Think of ONE change you could propose that would make your school better. Write an essay that would CONVINCE other students and teachers in your school to agree with you." Your masterpiece will be judged on a six-point rubric: for ideas and content, for organization, for voice, for word choice, for sentence fluency and for "conventions," which most people call grammar and punctuation. Make sure you follow instructions. In this case, even though you're bursting with suggestions, you must stick to just one education reform. Be sure your general opinions are backed up by specifics. And use arguments that would convince the targeted audience -- your peers and teachers -- not, say, schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan.

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