I am sure that following David Coleman’s speech at the annual NACAC conference yet another round of articles will penned decrying the burden of the malevolent SAT vocabulary. For years, students have been alone in their lamentation of the SAT’s propensity for underscoring the deficiencies in their respective vocabularies. Now these students have an ally in the new College Board president, who’s taken to joining the cacophony surrounding the SAT and its “arcane” vocabulary. In each of his public comments about the impending changes to the SAT, he’s been taking swipes at the words tested on his own exam. His comments have carried the implication that these tested words are no longer relevant, popular, and by extension not useful to learn. He has given tacit endorsement (whether intentional or not) to the idea that there is such a thing as an “SAT word” (a word that one learns for the SAT and will never use again). This rhetoric from the architect of Common Core State Standards and the de facto baby daddy of the Forthcoming New SAT (let’s call it: FNSAT), may be exciting for students, should be concerning to all of us logophiles.
If you’re preparing for the SSAT, one of the important things to learn early is how to roll with the punches. The SSAT is an inconsistent and fickle beast chock-full of trips, traps, bumps and hiccups. It’s designed for students in multiple grades and thus most of those taking the test will see concepts they have not yet learned, or be required to read at a level that is above (or below) what they’ve been doing in school. This creates lots of variability and can be confusing and daunting. Let’s check out what we mean by variability by exploring the grade levels of the reading passages in the reading section.
In order to analyze the reading level of the passages on the test, we took the passages that were in the “The Official Guide to the Middle Level SSAT” and ran them through the Flesch-Kincaid (F-K) analysis to see the grade level and readability score of each passage. This gives us one objective and consistent way to see how hard the passages were. Our findings are summarized in the chart below:
I’m always stunned by the lack of clarity that people have about what test prep is and what test prep isn’t. Many people seem to believe that test preparation involves sprinkling pixie dust on a test-taker and waiting for the score to soar to new heights. Think about how often you’ve heard of “tricks” to “beat the test.” Now don’t get me wrong, I know it’s largely the test preparation industry that sold the nation this bill of goods (thanks Joe Bloggs), but the impact of this thinking is being compounded by the current atmosphere in education of over-testing, misuse of testing, and over-reliance on test results. This post will clarify “once and for all” what test prep is and what it isn’t. I hope after this post that I’ll never again hear the phrase “just a few tricks” combined with “get me a great score.”
“I just need a few tricks to boost my score.”
Not too long ago the College Board hired David Coleman as the new president and his first few months can be summarized by the Wu Tang Clan – “Kaboom, guess who stepped in the room!” In just a few short months, Coleman has kicked up enough dust to make notoriety seekers like Lady Gaga and Madonna proud by speaking of the failures of the College Board and its programs (notably the SAT and AP).
“I have a problem with the SAT writing” – David Coleman, president of the College Board
As a 20 year veteran of test preparation, I’ve been enamored with the FairTest list of SAT/ACT optional schools for what seems like a decade now. I am sure many of you as parents, educators and students have also been impressed with such a list; it’s seemingly a harbinger of a radical shift in admission policy that will minimize the impact of standardized tests which have historically put low income and minority students at a disadvantage. I’ve seen the good and bad of testing for years and find it commendable that a school would be brave enough to defy convention when it comes to standardized test scores, forgoing both the benefits and the drawbacks, to weigh students on their broader merits.
Recently the College Board again stuck its foot in its proverbial mouth and for me has reopened the never-ending debate about its role in higher education (I’ll be blogging more on this soon). But the latest flub from CB makes us wonder if they need to just put Olivia Pope on retainer to rescue them from a seemingly infinite string of blunders. The latest, which has yet to be named but I’ll call “Summergate,” again starkly raises questions from “What role does the College Board play?” and “Is the College Board a self-appointed gatekeeper to higher education?” to “Is the College Board driving elitism and bias in education?” and “Is the College Board biased against low income, urban, and minority students?”
This entry was posted on 4RIISE.com on 2/6/12. Part IV of our ongoing Word Challenge series proves that great speeches can inspire and entertain.
Great speeches use deliberate language and strong vocabulary to sway the audience to a point of view, address injustice, or simply to inspire. We’ve looked a at few figures in US history who have done all those things and more. Not all great speeches happen in Congress or on Inauguration Day, however, or are even given by real-life people. Some speeches take place on Independence Day, or more specifically in “Independence Day” the movie.
We probably all remember being told “if you see a word you don’t know try to understand the meaning from context.” While this was pretty good strategy for early readers (let’s say through 6th grade), the older you get the less it works. Trying to learn vocabulary from context as you get older is fraught with peril (is fraught a typo?). Let’s explore the difference between vocabulary in context and vocabulary from context. We also explore some strategies on how to use this to help us with the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and GRE.
Learning vocabulary from context
Children’s books are often written with the intention of helping children acquire new words. To help children learn new words, these authors of children’s books will often use a word and then immediately define it in the context of the text. That text might look like this:
Earlier this year we joined SAT aficionados and college counselors on Twitter for the bi-weekly #CampusChat. The topic was SAT vocabulary and it sparked a zany hour of interesting words being used in fun context. By our estimation the prize for most interesting use of SAT vocab was taken by Suzanne Schaeffer (mostly because of her fun digs at Bell Curves founder @akilbello). If you’re interested you can see the full twitter transcript here.
This chat got the juices flowing over in BC central and sparked us to ask our teachers for recommendations for short-term (less than 6 months) and longer term vocab acquisition tools and tricks. In this blog we’ll address some of the long term vocabulary strategies that parents can use to help their children develop college-ready vocabularies.
It’s the invention of the test prep industry so they can sell you their “miracle cures.” This isn’t to say that all test preparation companies take this line. A few companies, Bell Curves among them, pride themselves on providing test prep that speaks to the knowledge, insights, and strategies needed to conquer the test, rather than play into the notion that these tests are designed to trick test-takers. My gripe with the other, more popular position is that it seems designed to make the test out to be a big scary mysterious unknowable boogie man designed to jump out of the dark and bop the unwary, and thus force test-takers to get help from someone else to defeat the unknown and unknowable. However, if the test is just a test, a test of content, a test of information, a test of factoids presented in a very particular way, then you might be able to prepare on your own. It’s got to be easier to sell a course or tutor if “only SAT experts” have the key to this very special lock.
Don’t believe the hype!