Vocabulary and the SAT

The College Board has made a big show of proclaiming that it has removed the “SAT words” from the SAT. The problem is that unless you “dumb down” the reading passages, the dreaded higher tier vocabulary words will still exist. The problem with asking students whether they think words like assiduous and deleterious are useful is that they are not doing the level of reading required at university. The adults who criticize these “unfair” words are influenced by hyperbolic articles that focus on a rare word and criticize the entire premise of the test based on a singular use, out of context I might add, of “refulgent”. But isn’t the point of the test to sort students and identify the best students?

Ideally, nobody should get a perfect score. Yes, you read that correctly. I said nobody should get perfect. The test should include obscure and challenging vocabulary in order to effectively differentiate among students.  In the past, students took the test without preparation, and it was used as a sorting mechanism, but with today’s hyper-competitive mindset, a good score is not seen as good enough. Students are pushed to achieve “perfection” at any cost. The cost is of course true learning and understanding. Far too many students focus on the end result–the magic number that is the shibboleth to the Ivy Gates. The problem is that once inside these students falter because they don’t truly have the skills to excel in the type of academics that universities require. The chief necessary  ability is being able to read large amounts of text that may contain obscure language. If students are incapable of doing so, they won’t be able to process the vast amount of material that they need to in order to do well in their classes. It is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, many students and parents look at tests such as the SAT as unfair and antiquated barriers to entrance to top-tier universities. In some aspects that may be true, but the vocabulary is not the problem. Requiring students to have a rich and varied vocabulary is not a punishment, but a signal that if you feel that you are eligible to attend a prestigious university, that there needs to be something elevated about your ability to communicate. University is all about reading, thinking and writing, and without the exact words to convey your meaning, how can you expect to present something new?

One comment

  1. Appreciate your analysis of striving for perfection as something that stifles learning. In these cases, it definitely becomes more about the grade or number than the content being taught. Thanks for the post!

    Like

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