Ruminations on grammar, philology, standardized testing, and anything else that strikes my fancy

Passive Fail Redux

Linguist Geoff Pullum has been cataloging instances of well-educated people who cannot distinguish the passive voice from other syntactic structures, the fruits of which are an excellent article, "Fear and Loathing of the English Passive," to appear in Language and Communication. If you teach writing, I highly recommend it.

Goodbye to Sentence Completions

When the SAT changes in 2016, there will be no more sentence-completion questions. The College Board didn't announce this change directly. Instead they said that "No longer will students use flashcards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down."

Changing the number of answer choices

This is part three in my analysis of the changes to the SAT. Part 1. Part 2.

Another forthcoming change to the SAT is the number of answer choices per question: there will be four rather than five options for all questions. This is another way in which the new SAT will more closely resemble the ACT, which already uses four-choice questions for all the tests except Mathematics.

On Formula Scoring

This is the second installment of my commentary on the changes to the SAT. Part 1 is here

There are a few changes to the new SAT that I know people will be talking a lot about but which actually matter less than you might think they would to the test taker, although they matter quite a bit to the people making the test. Of these, one has received much press attention since the initial announcement: no more deduction for wrong answers.

The SAT and SES

Everyone seems to be talking about the new SAT. I'm going to reserve judgment until I see really specific information about the new test. The rather vague descriptions so far sound fine, but details are very, very important on standardized tests.

The New York Times article on the changes has a lot of interesting stuff. But one comment about the relationship between the SAT and socioeconomic status (SES) caught my attention:


Test Corruption

The UK has asked ETS, the company that creates the SAT for the College Board, to stop administering two major tests, the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) in Great Britain, for the purposes of fulfilling the UK's immigration requirements.

SAT Essay Word Clouds

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:

Really, truly, literally

If you complain about the hyperbolic use of literally to mean figuratively, let me ask you this: do you complain (or even notice) similar metaphorical extensions of really or truly?

The question arose when I ran across the following remark by Tim Robbins about Susan Sarandon:

How much is an SAT essay worth to your score?

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.


Subscribe to polysyllabic RSS