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Think It Through on the IBLCE Exam

Have you heard this story? A kid comes out of a room after having taken an exam. His friend asks, “Did you have trouble with those exam questions?” The kid’s response: “No, not really. The questions didn’t bother me. It was the answers I had trouble with!”

It reminds me of the IBLCE exam.

Let’s face it. There will be questions on the IBLCE exam that you’ll have trouble with. There will be questions on content that you never studied, or to which you’ve had no exposure. There will be questions for which neither you nor I know the answer. It happens. Don’t panic!

Sometimes, we know more than we think we know. I’ll show you how this works. I’m going to give you a question for which I’m sure you don’t know the answer! Then, you’re going to figure out the correct answer–or at least make an educated guess. Here’s the question:

Marie’s sister began working in Rochester NY in 1962. She is now happily retired, but volunteers at a local charity 3 days a week. Which of the following was Marie’s sister’s occupation during her years of paid employment?
a. Chemical engineer
b. Professional firefighter
c. School teacher
d. Scuba diving instructor

Now, let’s reflect for a moment before we go on. You know right away that “firefighter” isn’t a likely answer. How did you know that? Because you know that Marie’s sister is, well, a woman! You instinctively know, without ever having learned it, that the vast majority of emergency-services jobs are held by men. See how you knocked off that option? Good. Let’s look at the other options.

You’re thinking it’s unlikely that the scuba diving instructor is the answer. You realize that you just eliminated the “firefighter” option by reasoning that women don’t usually have that occupation. But you’re eyeing this carefully. You’re wondering: Maybe there is something very unusual about this woman! Maybe that’s why this showed up on a question! Ok, fair enough. But where does the sister live? In Rochester NY! Aha! You suddenly remember that TV commercial from Subaru several years ago showing the man all bundled up in a blizzard with his dog sled and his vehicle. The commercial ended by saying that Rochester NY is the most snowed-upon city in the United States. Hmmmmmmm. Not likely that this woman spent her career doing something that could be done only a few months of the year.

OK, you’ve eliminated two options. Your gut is telling you “school teacher.” But you’re afraid to go with your gut. You wonder if you’re overlooking something here. You’re really, really wondering because, of course, you really don’t know the answer! You know you don’t know the answer! You know you’re taking a WAG (wild-ass guess). So you’re pondering the possibility of the chemical engineer. Rochester was a big Kodak city in its heyday. They surely employed chemical engineers, right? Ok, so you’re thinking that’s possible. But then you realize: If she started working in 1962, she probably went to college in the late 1950s. What were the three top occupations of women in those days? Secretary (not an option here) … nurse (also not an option) … teacher.

And sure enough, there you have it. Marie’s sister went to college to become a teacher, and she taught Special Education in the Rochester City School District for about 45 years. Marie’s other sister went to college to become a secretary. And Marie went to college to be, umm, yes, that’s right: a nurse!

See? There is no way you could have known this information by studying. But by thinking about the information in the stem of the question, you can improve your chances for picking the correct option for your answer. Think. Call up some information from your subconscious (like the Subaru commercial.) Use some logic. Think about likelihoods. You can almost always narrow your choices down to the two best options and improve your odds of success.

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