SAT

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.
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.)
2 Jan 2012

Can the SAT be gamed? (Part I)

Submitted by Karl Hagen
In December, the New York Times had a "Room for Debate" piece called Why Does the SAT Endure? The viewpoints expressed include those of two psychometricians, a college admissions officer, someone working for a test-prep company, and an education policy wonk. Taken together, the pieces didn't constitute much of a debate, but the introduction to the discussion poses the question of why the SAT is still around if, as its critics say, it can be gamed.
31 Dec 2011

If not this, then what?

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Standardized tests in general, and the SAT in particular, get a lot of bad press. Companies like Princeton Review build their entire marketing strategy on trash talk about how horrible the test is. Organizations like Fair Test campaign for abandoning the use of the SAT (and the ACT) in college admissions, claiming that it is both biased and ineffective.
9 Jul 2009
I've written before about how preparation material for the SAT writing section sometimes presents an over-simplified view of grammar that can get you into linguistic trouble. Here's another case in point: The following question appears in a Kaplan practice SAT (12 Practice Tests for the SAT 2009 Edition, p. 589):
Although talent may be a crucial element on the road to fame, it is difficult to succeed without a highly developed work ethic.
22 Jun 2009
The Grammarphobia question for June 22 addresses our old friend "none is" vs. "none are."

Q: As an SAT writing instructor, I am intrigued by your Grammar Myths page, which debunks the rule that "none" is always singular. Since the College Board follows this rule, we have thousands of students learning to write sentences like “None of the chickens is hatched.” What do you think about that?

15 Nov 2008
Topic: 
Hasty generalizations about grammar quickly get you into trouble. As a case in point, consider the difference between subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement. Both require, in the core cases, attention to the number (singular or plural) of a particular noun phrase. At the same time, there are important differences, and treating the two as identical can lead to significant problems.
2 May 2008

Transliteration for dummies

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Note to the College Board: the correct transliteration for 'þ' is 'th', not 'p'. I've finally started to go back to analyzing the SAT writing material to infer the College Board's views on grammar, and while flipping through the January 2008 SAT, my eye came upon this bit from a passage in a reading section about Ezra Pound's translation of the Old English poem "The Seafarer":
Moreover, there are unfortunately some mistakes, as when Pound misreads purh ("through") as pruh ("coffin").

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