Monday, August 31, 2015

Hello, Founding Documents!

When revisions to the SAT were first announced, there were several changes proposed for the reading section.  One of the changes was the elimination of the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary section that started off each reading section.  I thought that was an interesting choice at the time because, as unpopular as the vocab questions were, testing vocabulary is an easy way to assess reading comprehension.  Vocabulary knowledge is a reliable predictor of reading comprehension and vocab questions are a lot easier to write.  In addition, testing vocabulary, as opposed to passage-based testing, allows more questions to be asked in the time allotted, which should allow for finer differentiation among test-takers.

The reasoning offered at the time was that being familiar with "obscure" vocabulary did not predict success in college.  In the very same announcement, Daniel Coleman said that the reading passages would include "the founding documents."  At this point, the test-prep tutoring community responded, "Ummm.....have you actually READ the founding documents??"  Talk about obscure vocabulary.  I sat down and compiled a list of obscure or antiquated words from the Constitution ALONE that numbered in the hundreds.  Then the practice PSAT was posted without any founding documents in it, and I figured the College Board members had come to their senses.

Shortly after that, ETS posted four practice SAT tests.  I took the first one, and then I got busy.  REALLY busy.  It's been a crazy summer in test-prep land.  All the tutors I know have been swamped.

The first practice SAT had a pretty easy reading section.  Lovely.  There was plenty of time, and the most difficult section had a passage that had clearly been written for grownups but wasn't ridiculously challenging.  I didn't take tests 3 and 4 until this week, and HOLY CRAP!!  Hello, founding documents!

So there is a lot we could say here about the wisdom of including founding documents in some tests, but not others, including that fact that this would be a perfectly valid reason for avoiding the revised SAT.  However, if you are going to take it, you need to show up prepared to interpret writing that is 300 years old, obscure vocabulary and all.

Back before the practice tests were posted - but after the announcement - I had suggested that parents might want to purchase some nice pocket-sized books for their high school students. (They make great stocking-stuffers!)  Here they are again:

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