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.)
[Note: This article refers to the old SAT essay, which was made obsolete in 2016]
Back in 2007, I wrote a blog post imagining what Present-Day English would look like if you applied the rules of Old English syntax to it. More than 5 years on, it remains one of the more popular posts here.
[UPDATED 2/19/13: added a few more comparisons, and by popular request, appended the list of non-a produce from WordNet.]
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.
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.)
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.
You probably know about the visualization trick for learning new words: create a mnemonic device linking the sound of the word to its meaning. For example, to learn hirsute, you might picture a woman standing in a business suit. The suit has hairs poking out of it all over. You then tell yourself, "Her suit is hairy."
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.
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.