The key to successful negotiation is to be allocentric. That is, one needs to understand and appreciate the position and interests of the other parties. Of course, being allocentric isn't useful only in negotiation. It can help one be a better parent, spouse, boss, employee, or pretty much anything. As evidence, I thought I'd take a little detour and show you how being allocentric can help you be a better test taker. Perhaps even a much better test taker. When taking a test, think about the position of the person writing the questions. What's the goal of the test maker? As one who has written way too many tests, I'll venture at least three considerations a top of mind. First, I don't want everyone to get 100, or everyone to get a zero. The test should differentiate those who know the material from those who don't. Okay, there might be some context in which it's fine for everyone to get 100. But that certainly wouldn't work for a standardized test like the SAT, GMAT, or LSAT. For multiple choice tests, the different answers should be chosen so that students who don't know the right answer will be tempted to pick the decoys. At the same time, the decoys can't be too close. And that brings us to the second consideration. There must be only one right answer. Few things are more annoying than having to go back and re-grade a test when students are able to convincingly argue that a second answer is also correct. And for a national test like the SAT, that would be a flaw to be avoided like the plague. And lastly, faulty logic should never lead someone to the right answer. I don't want two wrongs to make a right. I want bad reasoning to lead the test taker to get the wrong answer. Now that we've got some test maker principles in mind, let's try a few multiple choice questions and see how we fare. Here's our first problem. A, merits. B, disadvantages. C, rewards. D, jargon. Or E, problems. You might be thinking, I left out a crucial piece of information, namely, the question. Yeah, I have, and that was intentional to show you just how powerful being allocentric is. I'm gonna demonstrate, you can answer these kind of questions by understanding the interests of the test maker, even without seeing the question. So take a look again at the five answers. In this case the second principal is the one that could come into play. We want to only have one right answer. So are there any circumstances in which we have two potential right answers? If so, we could rule out both options. To my mind, answers A and C merits and rewards are pretty similar. Of course the two are not always interchangeable, the sheriff offered a $10,000 reward for finding the kidnapper, won't work if we make that a $10,000 merit. But in most cases, one is substitutable with the other. Sure, virtue is its own merit, doesn't seem the same as virtue is its own reward. But it isn't wrong. Therefore, we should conclude that neither merits nor rewards is the correct answer. And for this very same reason I think B and E, disadvantages and problems, will cancel each other out. So all we're left with, then, is D, jargon. So, let's see how we did. It's time to pull back the curtain on the question, at least the first half, anyway. The question begins, Each occupation has its own. As you can see, all five choices work just fine for the first half of the question. And that should give you even more confidence that merit and rewards are interchangeable enough to cancel each other out. So are disadvantages and problems. Can you imagine the second half of the sentence that would work for merits, but would not work for rewards? I don't think so. So now let's reveal the rest, and we can see that jargon was indeed the only possible right answer. Each occupation has its own jargon. Bankers, lawyers, and computer professionals for example, all use amongst themselves language which outsiders have difficulty following. Hey, it worked. Now you got the basic idea. Let's try another example. A, accurate. B, popular. C, erroneous. D, widespread. Or E, ineffectual. Are there any options here that cancel each other out? Well sure, popular and widespread. Yes I know you wouldn't say apple pie was the most widespread dessert on the menu, only popular works. But in most contexts, the two words can be used interchangeably, even if one is a more popular or widespread choice than the other. That leaves us with the answers accurate, erroneous, and ineffectual. Now, none of these are similar in meaning. So, there's no help there. Note, however that accurate and erroneous are antonyms or opposites. And what's good about antonyms, is they can't both be right. But each is a good decoy for the other. So the test maker likes to include antonyms, because if someone gets the context backward, then he or she will be led to the wrong answer. Or, if someone gets the word meaning backward, again, he or she will make a wrong choice. And so that suggests that either accurate or erroneous is the right answer. But which one is it? And to figure that out, what we should do is bring ineffectual into play. The good test maker should want some poor soul to pick E and get the question wrong. How likely is someone to pick ineffectual if the correct answer is accurate? Not very likely. In contrast, I can see how someone might mix up erroneous and ineffectual. This sessions perspective on test taking is erroneous. And this sessions perspective on test taking is ineffectual. Both work even if they mean quite different things. And while ineffectual is a good decoy, I don't think it's so close to erroneous that you could actually claim that the two are interchangeable or both would be correct. And so with that in mind, I think the scales are now heavily tipped in favor of erroneous. And time to find out. Here's what it is, There are some people who think that only the poor and less educated people use slang, but this idea is erroneous. Okay, lets be clear, I'm not advocating going, taking a test, and only looking at the answers. It's certainly a whole lot easier to solve a problem by first reading the question, my point here is two fold. The power of being allocentric is so strong, that if you truly get into the head of the testmaker, then you can figure out the right answer, even without seeing the question. And in terms of a practical application, if you've read the question and are still confused about which is the right answer, applying these tools will help you figure it out. You might argue this isn't a fair demonstration, as I knew it'd work. After all, I've had a chance to read the question. The real proof of the pudding is in your test taking and with that in mind, I have two more word problems for you to try. And these are real questions, I didn't make them up. Here's your first one. Trudges, meanders, edges, ambles, or rages. There's two parts to getting the answer right. One, is to understand what all the words mean, and the second, the strategic component is to understand the perspective of the test maker. If you're confident you know what all these words mean, then go right ahead. But if you have some doubts, I'm prepared to give you the definitions. I'm still not telling you the question. And by the way, when you're looking to see if two words might be interchangeable, be sure to check if any of the definitions are similar, not just the first ones. So here it goes, here are some definitions, this is a hint. Trudge, trudge is to walk slowly and with effort because one is tired. Meander, walk in a slow, relaxed way instead of taking the most direct route possible. Edge, move gradually with small movements. Amble, walk at a slow leisurely pace. Rage, violent, explosive anger, furious intensity. The storm raged through the town. As you can see, the first four words can all mean to walk slowly. Yes, there are subtle differences between them, but if somebody can argue that say meander could work for amble, then we have two potential right answers. For example, let's put meander in each of the three other definition examples. We were very tired after meandering through the deep snow. Paul decided to meander away from the crowd. They meandered along for miles. The question would have to provide an extraordinary amount of detail to rule out trudge in favor of meander. Ditto for edge and amble. So, that leaves us with rage. And sure enough, rage it is. The revolution in art has not lost its steam. It rages on as fiercely as ever. In this case, I'm not trying to be a good test maker, so I hope all of you got that right. And you can apply these same tools to solve math problems. So, I've saved the best for last. Here are the five answers. 4 pi square meters, 8 pi square meters, 16 square meters, 16 pi square meters, 32 pi square meters. This is a problem that got me started thinking about the test taking strategy in the first place. I was sitting on a plane next to a young man and he was preparing for his GMAT. The question must have been at the bottom of the previous page, cuz all that I saw visible were the five answers I just given you. But that's all I needed. So, let's work it out, and let's not jump too fast to anyone answer. Can C be the right answer? I don't think so, this would violate the everyone gets it right principle. If 16 square meters were correct, I don't see how folks would come up with an answer that has a pi in it. Try writing a question where the right answer is 16 square meters and yet somebody might naturally come up with four square pi meters by mistake? I don't see how. So what's left, are a bunch of answers in square meters all with the pi. The smart money would guess that the questions about the area of a circle, in which case the formula is pi r squared. And if that's right there are two squares in the list. Namely four pi and 16 pi. So let's look at 16 pi first. What are the likely mistakes somebody might make trying to figure this out? Well, what's the area of a circle? One option is to use the formula for circumference rather than the area. So, here the radius is 4, and 2 pi r would be 8 pi. Now, in this case, it's linear meters, not square meters. But the person making the mistake, they'd be unlikely to notice. Another possible error is to leave off the pi, which gets you C. Or, you could leave off the square, which leads you to A. Or you could mix and match the formula for circumference and area, leading to two pi are squared and answer E. Thus, if D is the right answer, I can see how various mistakes would lead people to come up with A, B, C, and E, all as wrong answers, and that's just what the test-maker ordered. But to be sure we're right, let's try the same experiment with a view that 4 pi squared meters is correct. Okay, I think the most common mistake is your circumference formula. In this case, since r is 2, the person would end up with 2 pi r, which is 4 pi meters. They'd ignore the wrong units and pick A. And this would be a disaster for the test maker, cuz the most likely mistake leads the person to come up with the correct answer. Therefore, it can't be A. I hope you're now convinced that being allocentric is a useful tool and not just in negotiations. That's said, when it comes to test taking, and pretty much everything else, I'd still suggest you start by reading the directions.