4 Nov 2013

SAT Essay Word Clouds

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
For all my students who have recently taken the SAT (or are planning to do so soon), I prepared a little visualization of what sorts of topics appear frequently on SAT essays. I took all the essay topics made public from March 2005 (the first SAT with a writing section) through October 2013, deleted the boilerplate instructions and attribution lines, and ran the remaining text through Wordle to create a word cloud. Here's the result:
30 Mar 2013
As you probably know, the 200-800 score for the SAT Writing test is a composite score, based on a combination of an essay and multiple-choice questions. Students (and instructors) often ask me exactly how much the essay counts towards the overall score. Finding an answer to this question is rather tricky, particularly since the score that's reported to you is rounded to the nearest 10 points. (Internally, the ETS psychometricians use unrounded scales for their calculations.
17 Feb 2013

Stupid Memes

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
[UPDATED 2/19/13: added a few more comparisons, and by popular request, appended the list of non-a produce from WordNet.]

On Facebook today, I saw several people referring to a meme "Name a fruit or vegetable that does not contain the letter 'a'." with the comment "not that easy" above it. My immediate thought was that this was silly. Lots of non-a words occurred to me (cherry, lime, plum, beet, celery, turnip, etc., etc.)

31 Dec 2012

Expect better

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
Many students (and some test-prep companies) like to trash the SAT for its shoddy, ambiguous questions. For such students, I suppose, complaining is a way of coping with their own stress and imperfect performance. It's easier to cope with missing a question if you can convince yourself that it was unfair. In point of fact, though, truly problematic questions on the SAT are extremely rare. Every once and a while, it does happen.
8 Jan 2012

Can the SAT be gamed? (Part II)

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
In the first part of this series, I suggested that many strategies taught by test-preparation companies cannot legitimately be called gaming the SAT. Which is not to say that there aren't strategies out there that do amount to gaming the test. But many test-prep people, including myself, take the line that actual improvement comes from building fundamental skills and takes real work. (The test-prep guy writing in the Times debate I mentioned last time takes this attitude.)
7 Jan 2012

On Old English Translation

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
About 15 years ago, when I was still in grad school, I went through a phase where I did a certain amount of translation into Old English--perhaps a masochistic exercise, but it appealed to me as a technical challenge and as a way of improving my knowledge of the language. It would also come in handy when, years later, I got a job translating stuff for the Zemeckis version of Beowulf.

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