New education plan: Take the “tricky vocabulary” out of the SAT exam

posted at 8:01 am on March 7, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

Global observers have been sounding the klaxons for some time now when it comes to the American education system. We’re falling behind all of the smart countries, slowly sinking into a comfortable swamp populated by obese couch potatoes who gaze into their smart phone screens with glazed over eyes. The kids simply aren’t doing well enough on the SATs and the future looks dismal indeed.

But this is ‘MERICA, people! We’re not going to take this lying down! If our kids aren’t doing well enough on the standardized tests, there’s a clear solution. We’ll make the tests easier.

The organization that administers the SAT college entrance exam is adopting some big changes including a new scoring system, an optional essay and getting rid of hard vocabulary.

The College Board, which runs the widely used academic skills test, is changing the scoring system from a 2,400 point max back to the 1,600 points that it once used.

The SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, but the essay portion will be optional. And difficult vocabulary will be replaced with words that students are more likely to use in college or in the workplace.

Somewhere out there, William F. Buckley is rolling over in his grave. But with that, pull up a chair, pour yourself a strong one, sit back and prepare for another installment in our ongoing series, “Jazz Shaw: My Lawn and You Getting Off of It.

Most of these changes simply make no sense. I’m not sure why they’re going back to a 1600 point system – which shouldn’t matter a bit – but then again, I don’t know why we changed it in the first place. But the essay is optional? I assume that’s just to help people score better if they’re … bad at writing? And by all means, let’s get rid of all the “hard words” because, really… who needs a powerful vocabulary in an age when Bazinga is in the Merriam Webster Dictionary?

But all of this might still leave the test a bit too difficult for today’s teens. Got anything else for us?

Another change will include granting students credit for guessing. Currently, points are deducted for incorrect answers.

Ooooookay. I think we can pretty much turn the lights out with that one. I took the SATs back in the 70’s when the maximum score was still 1600. To put it mildly, I was not exactly a rocket scientist. I managed to break 1340 which wasn’t terrible, but my cousin Rick has already scored 1580 the year before, so any chance at wide approbation among the family was pretty much out the window. But the point is that the test was hard. Everyone in school was sweating it out, and the ones who cared at all worked their butts off preparing for it.

Now we’re going to award points for guessing. Welcome to the new America.

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Low achievement has nothing to do with race. We have the same issue around here. Welfare moms that spend the EBT on alcohol and cigarettes don’t do much to see to it that her kids learn in school no matter what color the skin is.

ConstantineXI on March 7, 2014 at 8:37 AM

Come on man, do you know what a set of 18″ rims costs these days?

slickwillie2001 on March 7, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I didn’t think that the SAT was ever supposed to be a literal test of WHAT you had learned – rather a way of assessing whether you can make utilize what you have learned to deal with unknowns rather than just spitting it back.

katiejane on March 7, 2014 at 12:08 PM

This is true, however, putting obscure vocabulary that is not ever used by serious intelligent people on the test is counter-productive, unless you really are giving it in sentences where the meaning can be deduced entirely from context. Otherwise, the test simply measures memorization of useless trivia – may as well ask the students to list baseball statistics.

I’m not sure since it’s been so long, but I seem to recall seeing words on the SAT that I had never seen before, and have not seen again despite somewhat extensive reading in a variety of subjects. Of course, I can’t be sure, as I don’t recall the words themselves. However, I believe almost every word I’ve come across post-SAT has been one I had at least seen somewhere before the SATs, even if I didn’t know the meaning. And I don’t believe sufficient context was given either.

To be fair, though, I think there weren’t all that many of these words. Somehow I managed a decently high score, though maybe there was luck involved. That, or the fact that the SAT is sort-of curved made it a wash, with not too many others getting those questions either. But this is still bad, because it introduces an unnecessary luck element.

In my experience, the most content-free fields use the most obscure vocabulary. Maybe there are some intelligent people somewhere on the planet with the word “hermeneutics” in their vocabulary, but its use seems to be highly correlated with post-modernist gibberish.

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 12:37 PM

The same goes for big words. The SAT has a lot of big words, sure. But companies like Kaplan do not need to teach kids all the big words or how to get a good vocabulary. Instead, the way the test is structured right now, you can use a few quick tricks to figure them out in context or simply jump right over them.

To the extent that this is the case, the obscure words really do belong on the test. An extremely important part of reading comprehension is understanding how to deduce the meaning of a word in context. Language changes, and serious academic disciplines will generally have some of their own technical jargon, as well as ordinary words that are given somewhat different and more technical meanings than their common English denotation.

I seem to remember some “trivia” type words NOT in context, which is very bad, but if there is sufficient context to deduce the meaning, then that’s the whole point of the SAT – to weed out the people who get lost every time they have to read something written twenty or thirty or a hundred, or even several hundred years ago, when the vocabulary in their field was either completely different, or had subtle but important differences in the meaning of different words. Similarly, when you have to deal with researchers at a different institution, they may have their own jargon that you need to quickly adapt to.

The SAT doesn’t just measure what you’ve learned, it’s supposed to measure your potential for future learning.

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

The wise will always succeed, the intelligent will always achieve, and the ignorant will always vote democrat, get EBT, and bitch about everyone that pays their bills.

Nothing new in the world. :-(

So long as we also remain the predominant firearm owners in the nation, well: To perhaps quote the new SAT, “whatevs, dude. No prob.”

orangemtl on March 7, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Listen, buddy, tough grading standards is not unique to you or “the elderly,” it is a fundamental platform of the conservative educational platform.

truecon on March 7, 2014 at 8:43 AM

I’m really glad someone was willing to call out all these utterly, utterly pathetic posters.

Notice how the only reasonable comments in this thread are coming from either (A) parents with children young enough to be faced with taking the SAT, or (B) people who didn’t take it 30+ years ago?

Posting whatever score you got in the 1970’s is absolutely pointless, except perhaps as an exercise in self-gratification. Moreover, no one cares what a senior citizen happens to think about present-day modifications to a test they took when they were 18.

As many of the genuinely informed posters here have already pointed out:

1. Getting rid of the essay is not “dumbing down” the test or some harbinger of illiteracy for America’s youth. It was added as an experiment. It failed. It was too subjective, and too easy to coach. Colleges did’t put much value on the essay score. Easy fix- scrap it.
2. Getting rid of the penalty for an incorrect answer puts the SAT in line with oh, lets say….. virtually every other multiple choice test on the planet. MCAT, LSAT, ACT, you name it. Again, this is not “dumbing down” the test- it’s an adjustment that gets rid of a weird quirk in the test.
3. Quibble with the decision to “get rid of hard vocabulary” if you’d like, but again- this isn’t necessarily “dumbing down the test”. This merely puts the emphasis on other areas in the verbal section- possibly areas that are far better predictors of collegiate success, which is the whole point of the test.

bocat on March 7, 2014 at 1:23 PM

This is true, however, putting obscure vocabulary that is not ever used by serious intelligent people on the test is counter-productive, unless you really are giving it in sentences where the meaning can be deduced entirely from context. Otherwise, the test simply measures memorization of useless trivia – may as well ask the students to list baseball statistics.

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Maybe you were absent on the day they briefly mentioned that a good working knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and etymology would enable you to figure out what’s behind a word and solve your unknown with something else in your brain toolkit.

ericdijon on March 7, 2014 at 1:35 PM

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 12:37 PM

Sorry – too lazy to scroll up to the correct comment.

ericdijon on March 7, 2014 at 1:36 PM

The SAT doesn’t just measure what you’ve learned, it’s supposed to measure your potential for future learning.

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

In that case, we should be using IQ tests, which are a much better predictor of your potential for future learning (as well as job success, but I digress). Can of worms: open.

I’m still relatively young, a millennial, and I had to take SAT tests since I was in 7th grade due to being in my school’s gifted program (you know, those things that schools are starting to abolish due to ‘lack of diversity’). I won’t bother with what I got because I’ll just get accused of ‘an act of self-gratification’ heh. My point is that I’ve got some experience with the exam. SAT exams aren’t considered in a vacuum when it comes to college entrance. You also have to have a serious GPA to be considered by any top-tier school, the SAT is just icing on the cake. Chances are if you’re already a 4.0 student, you’re not going to have any trouble getting a 1500+ on an SAT (without any ‘prep course’ time-wasting). For the rest of students who are going to the vast majority of non-ivy-league colleges, GPA was king when I was applying in ’02, not the SAT score. A poor SAT score coupled with good grades wouldn’t keep you out of most schools, similarly a near-perfect SAT score couldn’t even save you if your grades were marginal (ask me how I know).

I do think it’s good that they’re doing away with the essay, mainly because kids who grew up on computers shouldn’t be forced to put pen to paper as that creates an additional burden in a timed situation. I have no complaints about the GRE essay, for example, as that’s administered on a PC. Getting rid of analogies, and changing up the reading/vocab sections seems foolish. Most of my generation can barely speak English as it is, what the heck do we think is going to happen to the next one if they aren’t even challenged?

The dumbing down of America continues I suppose…

nullrouted on March 7, 2014 at 2:03 PM

I find many of these comments to be solipsistic in nature.

celtic warrior on March 7, 2014 at 2:10 PM

I find many of these comments to be solipsistic in nature.

celtic warrior on March 7, 2014 at 2:10 PM

I see what you did there… :)

nullrouted on March 7, 2014 at 2:13 PM

In that case, we should be using IQ tests, which are a much better predictor of your potential for future learning

The SAT was developed from an IQ test base, when it was first originated. Those are its roots, though when they got rid of analogies it changed that part of the test strongly.

My wife too is in this business, and while each child tests differently and different tests are appropriate for different people, the ACT is now the dominant test in the western and midwestern parts of the country, particularly California, and is increasingly popular even in the east. Many schools that won’t take the SAT do take the ACT but I cannot think of a single case of the reverse, a school that will only take the SAT.

The conservatives in the crowd here should, in my view be glad to see that even the lefty nut jobs running ETS are being forced by the competitive market to improve their test. After all its long been known the SAT is a poor predictor of college performance (while the ACT is a pretty good one and high school transcripts are even better, if from a good high school). These are wealthy socialists who run ETS (you should see their HQ; it’s like a beautiful park) and their little insulated world is shaking. This is good.

Jazz just goofed on this post.

MTF on March 7, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Say, for every ‘hard’ question they take out, would they lower the top possible score by, say, 100?

That would help normalize the results of the new, disimproved test so that past test takers who had a harder set of tests get credit for it.

Or put an asterisk next to the ‘new’ exam scores so everyone knows its the dunce version.

ajacksonian on March 7, 2014 at 3:23 PM

You can leave the accent mark off if you don’t know how to type it, but getting the letters in the right order does matter.

The Monster on March 7, 2014 at 10:34 AM

Thanks! I do know, but I was pressed for time.

Ummm, appeal to authority that directly involves nepotism is rather ineffectual, don’t you think?

GWB on March 7, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Nepotism? Please explain.

My wife spends class after class trying to get these kids to learn and trying to teach them to think, but all they want is the quick fix. She’s happy that Kaplan will have to quit offering that and get back to why she entered education in the first place.

JoseQuinones on March 7, 2014 at 4:26 PM

Otherwise, the test simply measures memorization of useless trivia

RINO in Name Only on March 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Because being able to communicate well – precisely, concisely, without redundancy, and able to hold someone’s interest – is “useless trivia”. Got it.

GWB on March 7, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Nepotism? Please explain.

JoseQuinones on March 7, 2014 at 4:26 PM

Sorry, but it just made me laugh that your appeal to authority was to your wife. It might not have been egregious, but 1) she has a vested interest (based on that comment) and 2) it seemed the only reason for citing her was that vested interest and that she was your wife. (Hence, nepotism.)

I’ll admit to an off-the-cuff comment on that one.

GWB on March 7, 2014 at 4:40 PM

Every college in this coountry is filled with remedial course because many can not function at the college level, so the idea is to “Dumb Down” the requirements to get in?
This will improve the system how?

John21 on March 7, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Boy, you aren’t kidding. The Youngest Scot has been accepted to DePaul University, in Chicago. We went for the accepted students conference/seminar today. I was utterly stunned at the first year courses, they all seemed to be remedial, without using the word in the course description. There was even one portion devoted entirely to….leaving the nest and “transitioning” to adulthood.


For THIS I homeschooled for sixteen years?

herm2416 on March 7, 2014 at 4:54 PM

They should just go through the whole thing and take all words of more than two symbols out. Most of those words are probably racist anyway.

VorDaj on March 7, 2014 at 4:56 PM

I think the SAT is just supposed to prove you have enough of a brain to go to college. Unfortunately there have always been people who don’t such as the people running the government right now. I suspect that the real reason for dumbing it down is that a lot of colleges have stopped requiring it.

crankyoldlady on March 7, 2014 at 5:07 PM

More background on the changes here:
SAT to drop essay requirement and return to top score of 1600 in redesign of admission test

The link to Common Core is disturbing.

slickwillie2001 on March 7, 2014 at 5:42 PM

As I immersed myself in the world of SAT and GPA for my son’s recent college application process, it became clear to me that SAT was a proxy for IQ and GPA a reflection of initative. Since IQ has no upper bound, but the SAT test does, the effect of watering down the SAT test will have the effect of shifting the bell curve to the right and concentrating more students at the high end of the scale. This will make average students look good and good students look great. Unfortunately for the highly intelligent, highly motivated students, the effect will be that they will no longer be distinguished from merely above average students. So now the elite universities will have to find some other discriminating factors to admit their students as they are innundated with higher percentage of perfect SAT scores.

Some of you complain that the existing SAT has outdated “hard” words. I argue that it is precisely these difficult questions that seperate the smart students from the brilliant ones. There needs to be room at the far right side of the bell curve for brilliant students to stand out. The effect of the SAT test changes will be to group the smart students with the brilliant ones, and so on down the line. It looks to me like another attempt to boost URM SAT scores.

Greetings HA bloggers,

jadedad on March 8, 2014 at 1:36 AM

I went to a lower tier law school as a result doing exactly nothing in college despite my alleged 1420 SAT qualifications. I was unfamiliar with the city and urban campus, so I went over a week ahead of class start for recon purposes. I walk in and see a classroom with a black instructor and about 15 black kids taking a lesson of some kind. What is this? Remedial readin and writin. No these were not foreign students. English was their first language, but they hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it in their first 22 years or so, so they were getting a crash course one week before the starting bell in an environment where skills in this area are, like, umm, maybe 100% of the game?

Fast forward a year. They are ALL gone. Some flunked out, cause in those days, the exams were not race coded and the professor only knew if the answers were stupid or not. The rest, all of them, transferred to a better law school. They were able to do so because the same thing had happened upstream in the hierarchy. Most of the affirmative action types cratered, and now the better schools needed dark skin survivors of the lower tier to meet their federal quota of “diversity”. In the second and third years, the professors stop flunking kids, knowing that the firewall is the bar exam. And there, you can take a prep course and unlimited tries, and even Deval Patrick eventually passed on the third try.

So it don’t make no difference, yo, whether you be shitcanning the big words on the test or sumpin. We gone be findin a way anyways?

Exit winning answer on a test requiring use of an analogy: “Her vocabulary was so bad it was like, whatever.”

cosifantutte on March 8, 2014 at 7:22 AM

The ACT doesn’t penalize for guessing. It never has.

Also having an essay means having a human being reading and grading it. Which means it is somewhat subjective. It also makes it more expensive.

Not sure of the problem with either of these changes. These tests are to see if you have the aptitude to succeed in college along with high school grades.

I still don’t think the tests are much of an indicator how well any student will do in college.

roux on March 8, 2014 at 1:07 PM

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