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The New-Look SAT Retires Rarefied Vocabulary in Favor of Context Clues


Remember those hours spent flipping through stacks of SAT vocab flashcards with such words as punctilious, irascible, acumen, and prevaricate? High school students preparing for the newly revamped test probably won’t need to worry about those. The emphasis shifts to “words that students will use consistently in college and beyond,” according to an explanation of the new approach released this week by the College Board.

The new SAT, which will be administered for the first time in 2016, includes several key changes. Rather than cramming new vocabs, for example, students will be expected to understand words in context. Examples include words with context-dependent meanings such as dedicated and vacated. Here’s a sample question:

“The coming decades will likely see more ’intense’ clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.”
— Adapted from Richard Florida, The Great Reset.

As used above, “intense” most nearly means:
A) emotional
B) concentrated
C) brilliant
D) determined

Questions will be designed to reflect real-world problems and challenges (more details and sample questions here). Every student taking the new SAT will also encounter a passage from the nation’s founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. Other big changes: The essay portion will be optional, although some school districts and colleges will require it, and students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers.

The College Board is also aiming to even the playing field by making free study materials available to everyone. The testing company has partnered with the ground-breaking Khan Academy to create interactive software, which will become available in 2015. (Read a great profile of Khan Academy here). “For too long, there’s been a well-known imbalance between students who could afford test-prep courses and those who couldn’t,” Sal Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, said in the press release. When my colleague Felix Gillette looked ahead at this change, however, he found a notable lack of concern among the reigning test-prep giants.

As for all those, well, esoteric vocabulary words put into limited circulation by their past inclusion in the SAT, it seems Americans will have to start using them beyond the flashcards to keep them around.

Cwinter
Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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