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The Holyoke Tutor/Mentor program connects volunteers to adult education classes in Holyoke.

"See? I can't do it!"

"See? I can't do it!"
Source: NY Public Library - Persistent URL:

Of all the HiSET subject tests, the writing test is the one that would stress me out. 

There are five tests in all (reading, writing, math, science and social studies) They're all standardized tests with multiple choice questions, a ticking clock, and high stakes,  so there's not a lot that's fun about any of them (except getting the diploma in the end).

The writing test, though, is full of fiddly multiple choice questions about how to rearrange a sentence or where to put a comma, plus an essay on a surprise topic with no time for multiple drafts.

It's enough to make this native English speaker, with a good education, and love of reading and writing, anxious and inclined to second guess my grammar.

So I particularly loved this story from Patty, one of our tutors, about a student facing down hew own writing test anxieties….

"I was working with a young woman who was preparing for her writing test. She thought she wasn't a good writer, and I asked her to write a little bit for me so I could see what she could do. We used the prompt in the purple HiSet prep book, which is something like "Write an essay about a place you would like to visit but have never seen." She wrote for a few minutes, produced one paragraph, and then threw down her pen and said, "See? I can't do it!"

So we talked about the prompt. I read what she had written and asked her some more questions about why she wanted to visit that place. She came up with a number of different reasons. [...] So I said that she had plenty of material for an essay there. She could write a paragraph about each of those reasons, add an introduction, and summarize what she had written in a conclusion, and she'd be there.

The next time I went in for tutoring, she called out to me and announced excitedly that she had passed her writing test!"

One of the joys of this work is seeing students pass their tests and reach their goals. 

As tutors and teachers, sometimes that means our job is to explain the five paragraph essay structure. But sometimes it's also to help students realize that they can write that five paragraph structure.

The real victory here isn't just passing the test, it's overcoming that emphatic "I can't do it" 

What does $20,000 get you?
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Thursday, 29 October 2020

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