In another article I wrote about science high schools, I underscored the importance of making one’s life like that of a laser beam (i.e., specializing in a certain field). That doesn’t suggest for a moment, however, that tomorrow’s scientists are supposed to neglect their other skills in favor of the hard sciences.
Good scientists and mathematicians don’t just excel in math and science—they also know how to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. In today’s global village, it’s important that they do so in English. That’s why science high school entrance exams have their very own English sections.
The good news is that these sections don’t have to be intimidating, provided you know what’s coming. Expect to be tested on synonyms, antonyms, error identification, analogies and reading comprehension.
The first two are pretty much straightforward. Just tap into your vocabulary data banks and pick the best or opposite of the words they give you. For instance, let’s say the item is the word “augment.” Given a list of possible answers, you can choose the word “increase” as a synonym and “decrease” as an antonym.
Error identification requires a keen eye for detail—you’ll be asked to examine underlined words in sentences and pick out the mistakes. To make things even trickier, there are items without any errors at all. It looks a bit like this:
Shirley and his mother came over to our place for dinner. No error.
A B C D E
Unless Shirley was born biologically male and simply chose to undergo an operation later, it makes sense to choose B as the correct answer.
The analogy and reading comprehension sections will take you a little more time to get through than the other sections. The former basically involves a sequence of words, and you’re supposed to guess the next correct word in the series. Think of it as the English version of abstract reasoning. As an example:
Doe: Deer:: _____: Bear
Note that the analogy questions may also ask for two words in the series instead of just one.
The comprehension section will you have you read essays or short stories and answer questions based on them. The questions can be based on facts stated outright, or inferences drawn from the passages. Expect the test to try and twist details around to see if you’re really understood what you’ve read.
One of the things I’m most thankful for is the fact that my parents got me into reading at an early age. Even if you’re not a voracious reader by nature, it’s not too late to pick up the habit. Start preparing for the English portion of the entrance exam by reading a lot. Better yet, read to yourself aloud.
My father also came up with this piece of helpful advice: whip out your dictionary and learn at least one new word everyday. If you do this faithfully, your vocabulary will expand to three hundred and sixty-five new words after one year.
If you’re in the mood for some pre-testing challenge, grab one of those activity books you see in bookstores or go visit a site with word puzzles, such as Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster’s site. When the time for the exam comes, you’ll be glad you did.