The “look-alike” Trap on Exams

You won’t catch me!
Naomi’s photos

No pictures, videos or creative games.

I needed a direct, no frills approach, to highlight my point this time.

My high school students’ final exams (internal and then national) are coming up. In between we have holidays and school trips (not to mention a slew of lectures), all cancelling lessons.

The clock is ticking.

It’s time to pick my fights – review skills most of my struggling learners have been able to employ successfully when they actually remember to keep them in mind.

What’s more, I have discovered that using the word “trap” seems to awaken a competitive streak in some of the students, so I’ve decided to capitalize on their awakened interest.

One correct answer and three distractors
Naomi’s Photos

I told the students that  whomever it is that writes the national final exams knows that some students have a system for answering multiple choice questions on reading comprehension tasks.  A system that doesn’t require reading. These students simply look for words that look alike in the options and in the text and then choose their answer without further investigation. For example:

The Sentence from the Text The Wrong Answer
1. Mr. Jay invested 11 million dollars in the football team. X Mr. Jay earned 11 million dollars from the football team.

Such students see the words “11 million dollars” and fall blithely into the trap the exam writer has set. They distractor that “looks-alike” is the wrong one (“Duh”, my strong students would say, but this is not for them)!

So, I challenged the students to outsmart the exam writers and not fall into the look-alike” trap that has been set for them.

Together we examined 8 sentences, which I have modified from actual national exams (I had to modify the sentences to make them clear when being read out of context) and corresponding incorrect answers chosen by unknown students who had forgotten about the “traps”. I didn’t worry about vocabulary – I supplied any glosses needed. The students led the activity, almost all of them were able to explain why the answer chosen was incorrect. Or, to rephrase, what caused the unknown student who picked  such an answer (they, of course, would never do such a thing!) to do so.

The fact that the students were able to analyze the errors successfully with hardly any guidance on my part (mainly glossing or adding context) didn’t mean the activity was too easy.

Quite the opposite.

They seemed to feel empowered. They could avoid a trap! They weren’t going to lose 8 points over nothing!

But will all of this actually come into play when the students take their national finals?

That remains to be seen…

Naomi’s Photos

Here is the worksheet I used. The downloadable document contains two versions  – one with the “critical” words underlined, and the other with no hints whatsoever. I used the version without any words underlined.

***Remember – this is not a worksheet for self-study. It is the discussion that matters. I was even able to sneak in a reminder about superlatives…

the look alike trap-2nwne8w


Saturday’s Book: “Ravelstein” by Saul Bellow

In the same boat
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To start at the end, I now know that this book is refers to a real person and that the book has raised many controversial issues. But frankly, I don’t think the point of this book is to discuss an attack on liberal arts university education in the USA, the AIDS epidemic in the past and lifestyle choices or just to present a very unusual, larger than life character.

I think is a book about friendship.

It is about having a friend who has become an inseparable part of your life, and then having to deal with the empty space you are left with when that friend is gone.

It remind me of the book by Ann Patchett – “Truth and Beauty”.

In both books the friend in question is not an easy friend to have and actually complicates ones life. Yet not being a close friend of this person is unimaginable. In both books the friend passes away.

Saul Bellow’s book is a much slower read than Patchett’s and it’s constructed in a kind of circular fashion. You encounter some events more than once but with additional information. The style only becomes a direct chronological narrative of events after “the friend” passes away.

It took me time to get into this book (and figure out what it is about)  but there’s something about the writing that made want to continue reading, though I can’t say what it was. It is a somewhat strange book but I’m glad I read it.


A Book for Teachers: “My name is Leon” by Kit de Waal

Childhood experiences vary greatly…
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I rarely post about a book before I have finished it, but I’m so very excited about this book that I just want to talk about it and so many things related to it!

Believe me, I would have finished reading it by now even though I just started it a few days ago. I was completely drawn in by the end of the first page. It’s just that life gets in the way… There should be “good book days” like “snow days” so that I can stay home and read!

First of all, the writing itself is amazing. The story is told from the point of view of 9-year-old Leon, yet on occasion lets us adults in on what is really happening to Leon before the child himself understands it. Leon lives in early 1980s Britain and is taken out of his completely dysfunctional home and placed in foster care. His little baby brother, who is white (from a different father) is quickly adopted, leaving Leon, who is mixed race behind. The story is moving and keeps the reader completely involved.

It is not an Oliver Twist kind of story. While I haven’t quite finished reading it, this is not a tale of abuse in the “newspaper headline sense of the word”. No one is being beaten, starved or locked in dark cupboards. Issues of economic status, race and welfare do come up, of course.

Actually, I find this to be a book about how children going through difficult family situations need to be heard, listened to. Noticed.

And that’s why I truly think this a book teachers should read. Every teacher has some students who are not having the kind of childhood we would like children to have.

Finally, I’m also excited by the fact that an advanced 12th grade student of mine lent me this book. My students choose their own books for their book reports, (though they must run it by me for approval) and one student brought in this book which she purchased. This particular student has had experience with social services in her life and she liked the book.

I could see this as a book that students could read – it is certainly thought-provoking!

Check it out!

Note: Actually, “Good Book Days” are not a good idea. There are so many good books out there – when would I teach and meet the kids?!