Students Should State Assumptions On Confusing Test Questions

Question: Last year in third grade, my great-granddaughter questioned me about this problem: “There are 35 computers in the lab. Five students each turn off an equal number of computers. How many computers does each student turn off? Label the unknown as m, then solve.”

Her answer was 7. The correct answer should be any number 1 through 7. I sent a note stating this to the teacher, who replied the correct answer was 7. I wonder how many students are being taught that they can solve a problem with incomplete data? — Worried

Answer: Your answer is correct. However, third-graders would not be able to write an equation to get this answer. If the problem had stated that all of the computers were turned off, the answer would be 7. This information was omitted.

A math expert advised us to tell the great-granddaughter that when a math problem is not completely clear like this one was, that children should state their assumptions.

The child could have noted that the problem does not state all computers are turned off so the answer is 1 through 7. Or she could have written 7 as the answer with the note that she assumed all the computers were turned off.

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Reading Activity 2: As you begin our skill activities this summer to keep your children’s reading skills sharp as well as to have them become stronger, it will be helpful for you and them to know exactly how well they would do on standardized reading tests. Then they should retake the same tests at the end of summer to see how their skills have improved. This will give your children a sense of accomplishment.

Preschoolers: We would recommend that children who are just getting ready to learn to read are given the “Get Ready to Read: Screening Tool,” available on the Reading Rockets’ website ( “Get Ready to Read” is a fast, free, research-based and easy-to-use screening tool. It consists of 20 questions that parents and caregivers can ask a 4-year-old to see if he or she is on track for learning how to read.

All Grades: A quick test to determine a child’s reading level between the pre-primer level and grade 11 is to use the “San Diego Quick Assessment” on our Dear Teacher website ( This test is actually extremely reliable and can easily be given at the start and end of summer.

Many online websites offer rather excellent practice reading tests in which students read a passage and then answer multiple-choice questions. Two choices that are especially good are those offered by Scholastic and Pearson. Search for them online. They are designed to help students become familiar with the language and formats they’ll encounter on state and national tests. You should do the sample questions with younger children so you know they are on the right track.

Older Children: Starting as early as seventh grade for very gifted children and at least by the sophomore year of high school, students should take SAT and ACT practice tests. They will find many free tests on both the College Board (SAT) and the ACT websites.

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