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Counting Backwards From 20 To 1

PROCEDURE. Say to the child: "_You can count backwards, can you not? I
want you to count backwards for me from 20 to 1. Go ahead._" In the
great majority of cases this is sufficient; the child comprehends the
task and begins. If he does not comprehend, and is silent, or starts in,
perhaps, to count forwards from 1 or 20, say: "_No; I want you to count
backwards from 20 to 1, like this: 20-19-18, and clear on down to 1.
Now, go ahead._"

Insist upon the child trying it even though he asserts he cannot do it.
In many such cases an effort is crowned with success. Say nothing about
hurrying, as this confuses some subjects. Prompting is not permissible.

SCORING. The test is passed if the child counts from 20 to 1 _in not
over forty seconds and with not more than a single error_ (one omission
or one transposition). Errors which the child spontaneously corrects are
not counted as errors.

REMARKS. The statistics on this test agree remarkably well. It is
plainly too easy for year IX, and no one has found it easy enough for
year VII. The main lack of uniformity has been in the adherence to a
time limit. Binet required that the task be completed in twenty seconds,
and Goddard and most others adhere rather strictly to this rule.
Kuhlmann, however, allows thirty seconds if there is no error and twenty
seconds if one error is committed. We agree with Bobertag that owing to
the nature of this test we should not be pedantic about the time. While
a majority of children who are able to count backwards do the task in
twenty seconds, there are some intelligent but deliberate subjects who
require as much as thirty-five or forty seconds. If the counting is done
with assurance and without stumbling, there is no reason why we should
not allow even forty seconds. Beyond this, however, our generosity
should not go, because of the chance it would give for the use of
special devices such as counting forwards each time to the next number

It may be said that counting backwards is a test of schooling, and to a
certain extent this is true. It is reasonable to suppose that special
training would enable the child to pass the test a little earlier than
he would otherwise be able to do, though it is doubtful whether many
children below 7 years of age have had enough of such training to
influence the performance very materially. On the other hand, when the
child has reached an intelligence level of 8 or at most 9 years, he is
ordinarily able to count from 20 to 1 whether he has ever tried it
before or not.

What psychological factors are involved in this test? It presupposes, in
the first place, the ability to count from 1 to 20. But this alone does
not guarantee success in counting backwards. Something more is required
than a mere rote memory for the number names in their order from 1 up to
20. The quantitative relationships of the numbers must also be
apprehended if the task is to be performed smoothly without a great deal
of special training. In addition to being reasonably secure in his
knowledge of the number relationships involved, the child must be able
to give sustained attention until the task is completed. His mental
processes must be dominated by the guiding idea, "count backwards."
Associations which do not harmonize with this aim, or which fail to
further it, must be inhibited. Even momentary relaxation of attention
means a loss of directive force in the guiding idea and the dominance of
better known associations which may be suggested by the task, but are
out of harmony with it. Thus, if a child momentarily loses sight of the
end after counting backwards successfully from 20 to 14, he is likely to
be overpowered by the law of habit and begin counting forwards,
14-15-16-17, etc. We may regard the test, therefore, as a test of
attention, or prolonged thought control. The ability to exercise
unbroken vigilance for a period of twenty or thirty seconds is rarely
found below the level of 7- or 8-year intelligence.

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