April 16, 2014

The SAT is obviating obscure words.

"Instead, the focus will be on what the College Board calls 'high utility' words that appear in many contexts, in many disciplines — often with shifting meanings — and they will be tested in context."
For example, a question based on a passage about an artist who “vacated” from a tradition of landscape painting, asks whether it would be better to substitute the word “evacuated,” “departed” or “retired,” or to leave the sentence unchanged. (The right answer is “departed.”)
ADDED: The new form of question is quite good... unless the intent is to take away an advantage held by young people who grow up with parents who speak well. It is relatively easy, I would think, to study lists of difficult vocabulary words and tricks about how to figure out the meaning of a word — e.g., matutinal — from its parts. It is much harder to study the way words appear in context. Yes, you can pick that up through reading a lot of well-written material, but words in context fill the environment of young people with educated, articulate parents present in the home, having conversations. The way words appear in context is, for them, deeply ingrained, easy, and natural.

Perhaps the idea of the change is to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student.

59 comments:

EDH said...

Best usage among several approximate choices?

Aren't they just asking for claims of cultural and racial disparity?

MadisonMan said...

Why the need for the NYTimes to give answers? Are they assuming their readers are stupid, or are the Editors stupid?

Birches said...

I hope that's one of the easier questions. The idea that one would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff from such an obvious word definition fills me with dread for the future of our country.

Bob R said...

That's a good question.

Smilin' Jack said...

"The SAT is obviating obscure words."

And obviously even the LSAT doesn't include the word "obviate."

Tank said...

Dat be funny Crude.

But you forgot the Asians.

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

The SAT measures mostly how white you are. Or Asian.

Strelnikov said...

Of course. Who needs to know anything other than what they will use commonly? Great test potential academic ability.

Mattman26 said...

I had to look up "matutinal," and now I'm ashamed.

RecChief said...

sure, why reward people for speaking well?

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ken in sc said...

Yeah, but will they know how to pronounce Achilles--well enough to win on Wheel of Fortune?

Big Mike said...

Perhaps the idea of the change is to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student.

You mean the offspring of Tiger Moms.

David said...

It's going to be pretty hard to design a verbal aptitude test that does not give advantage to kids who have gown up surrounded by people with high verbal aptitudes.

Unless of course they learn it in school. But that's probably too much to expect of most schools.

Wally Ballou said...

I always essay to obviate sesquipedalianism.

Dave Schumann said...

@MadisonMan -- I'd want any story to include the answers so I can judge whether the test makers got it right. They frequently don't.
I like the "fix the mistake" format. Makes you really engage with the question and has relevance for real applications.

Auntie Ann said...

Kid lit these days is seriously disappointing. The vocabulary is limited ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/top-reading_n_1373680.html) and the grammar is often simplistic, if not outright incorrect. Books are filled with hipster jargon and pretend-colloquialisms of youth-speak.

Non-fiction works aren't much better. High school textbooks are written at a significantly lower level than college textbooks ( http://www.scilearn.com/blog/lexile-scores-chart-high-school-reading.php ) [Though, it should be noted that Lexile is an inadequate method of detailing reading levels.]

Which leads to the question, if kids are not reading at an 11th or 12th grade reading level in 11th and 12th, then how are they going to do in college?

Patrick O said...

departed

Mark O said...

All of this will be accomplished under the direction of the Handicapper General.

netmarcos said...

Harrison Bergeron, call your office.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Context would likely be more difficult than meaning for those who learned English as a second language, so maybe this is a way to go after tiger moms.

Here's a question the SAT preppers may not be able to answer correctly:

What's the best word choice in context for the following sentence:

At weaning, we sorted off the heifers and steers and let the ___ back out to pasture.

(A) cattle
(B) cow herd
(C) cows
(D) bulls
(E) bovines
(F) beeves

For extra credit, explain whether cowherd would be an appropriate word choice in the above sentence.

SOJO said...

University textbooks are notorious for being badly written. It has little to do with a student's SAT vocabulary level, but lack of ability and clarity on the writer's part. Other than navigating that dense terrain, a student has to have the ability to pick up new jargon quickly, whether STEM, legal, or theoretical.

They could test that.

tim in vermont said...

"Handicapper General"

That was such a good story that I always thought that Vonnegut was writing ironically when he wrote his really liberal stuff, until I realized that he wasn't as he got more bitter and old.

Doesn't take away from his earlier stuff that was pretty good though. But it sure is hard to read The Sirens of Titan and realize that he probably wasn't kidding.

MadisonMan said...

if kids are not reading at an 11th or 12th grade reading level in 11th and 12th, then how are they going to do in college?

Colleges won't care as long as the tuition is paid in full.

Dave Schumann said...

@Left Bank -- I appreciate the intent there, but the verbal section isn't the place for specialized technical terms. I don't think it's a problem or a travesty that ranching terms are specialized technical terms. It would be equally inappropriate to ask a 'verbal' question distinguishing between an abutment, anchorage block, and foundation.

PB Reader said...

Somehow i don't think it will convert a 200 score into an 800 score.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Yes, you can pick that up through reading a lot of well-written material

But the imagined 'you' is not the pre-1960s elementary and high school student, who was assigned much reading and was expected to learn and be able to discuss it, vocabulary and all.

Rather, 'you' are someone who has read only a limited amount, and heard only the spectrum of TV and pop music and video and peer-group rhetoric, and whose teachers feel that to expand those meager horizons is not only unfair to some, but is also self-esteem-damaging.

You has shrunk, has been deprived, and has become far more easily bamboozled.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

@Dave Schumann, I love that you might think the difference between cows and bulls is too technical for the SAT.

madAsHell said...

It should be at least as hard as Wheel of Fortune

Fletch99 said...

LBotC-

I would answer "C".

It's known as "context". Your sentence contains the word "weaning", which even a city boy like me knows means when an animal quits feeding from it's mother.

For my extra credit- No. A cowherd is the same as a shepherd- the human responsible for the animals.

So- How did this HS graduate who spent a year in jail before he was 17 do?

Poorly written, BTW. You gave away the answers. You put a space in the "cow herd" choice

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

It would be equally inappropriate to ask a 'verbal' question distinguishing between an abutment, anchorage block, and foundation.

Then what isn't inappropriate?

The literature we read between 1945 and 1960 covered a universe of subjects, and frequently included technical vocabulary necessary and sufficient to describe precisely the objects and principles encountered in situations BEYOND the pupils' limited experience.

That educational experience included, and was intended to include, the use of dictionaries and research and discussion which would fill in some of the void in the unformed students' world knowledge. That's why it's called 'education'.

jimbino said...

Of course, the truth is that knowledge of rancher and civil-engineering terms don't count much in measuring a student's IQ.

What always counts, however, is knowledge of math and science, which is sorely lacking everywhere, even in the education of the Supremes, except for Breyer. If he leaves, we'll probably end up with yet another English major like Stevens and Thomas.

Egad

Hagar said...

True dat, Madison Man.
I did not think about it at the time, but I now believe the main reason I was so readily accepted back when was that I would be paying out of state tuition.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Perhaps the idea of the change is to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student.

But I thought you liked Drudge's use of context!

Conserve Liberty said...

The literature we read between 1945 and 1960 covered a universe of subjects, and frequently included technical vocabulary necessary and sufficient to describe precisely the objects and principles encountered in situations BEYOND the pupils' limited experience.

That you would use 'necessary and sufficient' in your rejoinder is sufficient (but not necessary) to identify you as the product of upper-middle-class white Euro-Protestant privilege, which status we must single-mindedly eradicate.

Sam L. said...

"Perhaps the idea of the change is to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student."

I am shocked, shocked, to read that slur on the test writers!

virgil xenophon said...

I see insufficiently sensitive is a geezer like myself, who graduated HS in 1962. :) (Avg SAT scores peaked in 1963, btw, and have been in free-fall ever since.) Of course I had an even greater advantage being the son of college professors, and going to the Univ Lab school where most of our teachers 1-8 had their MA from Columbia or Chicago and we had specialized teachers for art, music, (song) handwriting (cursive) and PE. (who was the head of the Univ womans PE Dept) plus a million student teachers and the facilities of the entire college campus (library, art gallery, chemistry/biology bldg, drama and stage for plays, etc.) ALL, of course, basically for free. Something that is unavail at even the best pvt schools today at ANY cost and the number of Univ Lab schools nation-wide has dwindled due to budgetary reasons. I was a "fortunate son" indeed..

Carl Pham said...

...but words in context fill the environment of young people with educated, articulate parents present in the home, having conversations.

This seems like a charming parental vanity, and I suggest the long history of IQ tests and some common sense about cognitive development in childhood proves it quite wrong.

In fact, it is likely that nearly everyone's environment contains a superfluity of complex words in context. You may not hear them from your parents, but you probably hear them from some of your teachers, from William F. Buckley on the tube, when he was alive, or you may read them on this or that blog, spot them in a textbook, and so forth.

It's worth remembering that children have profoundly different and far more efficient memories for words than do adults. Adults need many many repetitions of an unfamiliar word, and perhaps conscious study, to make it their own. But at ages up to about 16 or so, children can easily learn words with just one passing exposure in context. Their memories are tuned for such phenomenal acts of acquisition. Indeed, they have to be: the generic child must learn something like an average of 3-5 words a day up to age 16 just to be able to hold an adult conversation by then.

So it seems likely there is plenty of exposure for almost anyone to develop a wide and deep vocabulary. Why don't most? They may lack the interest (or parental pressure), but over a long time it seems more likely the root cause is that they lack the intelligence to easily appreciate fine distinctions in meaning. This is probably why tests of verbal ability have always been among the most reliable tests of IQ. They test how well-tuned the brain is to pick up on subtle shades of abstract meaning. That's a pretty good working definition of "intelligence."

jacksonjay said...

"The school’s president, Bruce Shepard, has been open about the goal, stating in the university’s 2012 opening convocation: “Every year, from this stage and at this time, you have heard me say that, if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as university."

Damn!

mkh said...

All of the common-core-esq changes are about making less intelligent people of non-pallor look smarter.

fizzymagic said...

Am I the only one to notice that the usage of "obviate" in the title is incorrect?

Obviate is used when something is rendered unnecessary, not merely removed. I hardly imagine that the College Board has that power over the English language.

Nice try, Professor. I can only hope that the error was intentional.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

That you would use 'necessary and sufficient' in your rejoinder is sufficient (but not necessary) to identify you as the product of upper-middle-class white Euro-Protestant privilege, which status we must single-mindedly eradicate.

Please! Turn your eradicator on the privileged tribal shamans who wish to cut up the wounded and divide the spoils of our declining civilization.

Balfegor said...

Re: Althouse:

Perhaps the idea of the change is to disadvantage the overachieving, drudge-like student.

Yes, specifically, it is intended to disadvantage the 1st generation Asian immigrant, who often does not grow up in a household environment where educated articulate English is spoken. Vocabulary lists and raw determination could overcome a lot of that linguistic disadvantage before. This will make it a little bit harder.

But not harder enough to get the results these testmakers want.

Michael K said...

The SAT was invented in 1926 to equalize the college application process for children of poor parents. The NY Times is interested, or its readers are, in equalizing the field between the non-reading children of wealthy parents and those damned flyover country overachievers.

I took the SAT in 1955 and to this day I do not know my score. All I know is that it was good enough to put me in the National Merit Scholarship program. My father was a bartender who did not finish high school and never read a book.

It has been steadily dumbed down over the intervening years. We all know the reason why.

if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as university."

The other part of this is why the average grade at Harvard is an "A." That's why it won't do any good to see Obama's grades,

Jim said...

The idea isn't to make it more or less advantageous: the idea is to make it RELEVANT.

What difference does it make that a student understands a dictionary definition if he doesn't understand how to use the word in context? It's akin to Google Translate. What you often wind up with is literal translations that are confusing and ultimately meaningless to native speakers.

What matters is that, not only does the student understand the word, but s/he also knows how to properly USE the word. That's what matters, and that's why this is a welcome change.

cyrus83 said...

The main problem I see from the NYT article is that the Collegeboard is claiming that this new revision will close the gap between rich and poor students.

The test is in theory supposed to be a measure of aptitude and readiness for college. If the tests are deliberately designed to produce better scores for poorer students while those students aren't actually any better as students, it reduces the value of the test as an assessment.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Balfegor. That is what I was thinking of.

Freeman Hunt said...

If any test creator thinks he can outflank clever parents, he is not quite clever enough himself.

Freeman Hunt said...

"The test is in theory supposed to be a measure of aptitude and readiness for college. If the tests are deliberately designed to produce better scores for poorer students while those students aren't actually any better as students, it reduces the value of the test as an assessment."

This. The colleges can handle looking at secondary factors in their admissions processes.

rcommal said...

**if kids are not reading at an 11th or 12th grade reading level in 11th and 12th, then how are they going to do in college?**

*Colleges won't care as long as the tuition is paid in full.*


* = That's not true.

rcommal said...

If any test creator thinks he can outflank clever parents, he is not quite clever enough himself.

Quite a statement, that.

So, what you're saying is that parents can obviate the hurdle for their children.

My question is: What do you think about that notion?

Hagar said...

@fizzymagic,
No, I noticed too, so you are not completely alone.
And "departed" and "intense" are also wrong words for thee context.

This does not augur well.

Freeman Hunt said...

So, what you're saying is that parents can obviate the hurdle for their children.

They can't do away with it completely just as before. But the idea that test prep will now end or involved parents and access to educational resources will now stop making a difference, I think this is absurd. The apparatus will adapt. Families will adapt.

My question is: What do you think about that notion?

As for monetary resources helping children over hurdles, I think that's the same as it ever was. People can't buy everything though. They can only provide more opportunity for development of a child's talents. Obviously the kid whose parents can afford an oboe and oboe books and oboe lessons is more likely to be a successful oboe player than the kid whose parents cannot provide any of those things. Even with all of his resources, however, there are no guarantees that this aspiring oboe player is going to be successful.

As for the test prep establishment, I am not familiar with it, but I don't see why it wouldn't adapt. I don't think that's where the real difference is made though. I think the real difference is made in the quality of education provided throughout the child's young life. (That is, as far as what is changeable and ignoring innate, fixed abilities.) I think it's terrible that parents, unless they have the money for private school or the ability to homeschool, have almost no say in a child's school. That's why I think vouchers should be universal.

On the broader idea of parents helping students along, I think that's complicated. I think there's a big difference in East and West culturally on this point. I don't know that I'm interested in committing my complete thoughts on it to the Internet just now. I'll only go so far as saying that I don't think the average Western parent is as involved in his child's education as he should be.

Now I would fall off into the topic of what our culture's educational values are (Status? Resume? Brands? Humanity? Life of the mind? Knowing God? Etc.,) and how and how easily or not parents can provide these, but I need to make breakfast.

Thus ends my pre-coffee conjecture of the morning.

educationrealist said...

Okay, so for starters, yes, it does appear on the surface that the SAT is trying to discourage gaming of the sort that is often done by Asians.

The question is, why would they screw up their one competitive advantage? The ACT has more US testers than the SAT does; the SAT dominates the overseas market, which for all practical purposes means Asians. Asians in the US also prefer the SAT.

So while it's noble and all that for the SAT to change, it doesn't make sense.

A likely possibility: Coleman doesn't understand what he's doing.

Having looked at the changes, I'd advise the ACT to sue--some of them are pretty direct ripoffs.

rcommal said...

This. The colleges can handle looking at secondary factors in their admissions processes.

It's not a matter of whether they can. It's a matter of whether they will.

Take off your blinders.

--

Of course, you and I, your children and my child, are in different places.

Your oldest is 7ish, give or take, yes? My kid is entering high-school age.

You are still in a place where it's easy to do theory, Freeman. Take a moment to consider that, and why I might be asking you to to take a moment to do so.

rcommal said...

Freeman:

About homeschooling:

Freeman Hunt said...

I consider it all the time. You assume too much about my mindset.

Additionally, I haven't posted anything here about homeschooling and almost nothing about my own approach, save saying I think most cultural Western parents are underinvolved. I think you're assuming a great deal about me that isn't true.

rcommal said...

Fair enough, Freeman.

rcommal said...

Freeman, Even more: That's fair.