Guest column

What's in a vowel?

By Charles Packard | Apr 27, 2014

The SAT morphs into the SET — Low Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in Maine and elsewhere continue to stagnate despite generous taxpayer increases in per-pupil spending. The SAT inquisitors in Princeton, N.J., are listening. They are yet again revamping the SAT, this time to assess the "extended thinking" of college applicants. Put another way, they are dumbing down the SAT to ensure that all test-takers leave the exam room feeling good about themselves.

That being the case, the new SAT, in the interests of acronymic accuracy, ought to be re-named the SET, or the Self-Esteem Test, or maybe the Survey of Extended Thinkers. Here are just four examples of how the SET might reach out to comfort its test-takers beginning in 2015.

SECTION ONE: The Writing Sample (12 minutes at most): Nobody is going to get on your case if you don't want to submit a sample. But, if you do choose to write one, that's cool, too. 140 characters or fewer would be awesome. Four possible topics follow. Or do your own thing.

When done, tweet your sample to @SETdude. Topic suggestions include [1] Why I twerk. [2] The Tyranny of Homework (NOTE: "Tyranny" means, like, "cruelty.") [3] What Freaks Me Out [4] Prom? What prom?

SECTION TWO: Big Words (3 minutes or more): Four word-bunches appear below. Identify the one big word in each bunch. You needn't know what it means. Circle it as best you can. If you are not sure which word is the big one, circle any word. Then chill out and check your text messages. [1] Rub-a-dub dub, triumvirate in a tub. [2] Where there's smoke, there's conflagration. [3] Life is just a porringer of cherries. [4] "I saw Mommy osculating Santa Claus."

[TIME OUT: If you feel put-upon at this point, please feel free to moss for a few minutes at one of the exam room's relaxation stations.]

SECTION THREE: Poetry as Protest (take your time): The food in college dining halls is often the target of student protestors chanting toe-tapping, rhyming slogans in unison. Four such slogans follow here. But one of them is clearly not up to activist protest standards. Find it and cross it out. [1] ENOUGH ALREADY! BAG THE PIES! THEY BLOAT US TO A BIGGER SIZE. [2] WOW! YOU HARDWORKING FOLKS WHO PREPARE OUR GREAT FOOD DESERVE A HIGHER WAGE! [3] KITCHEN COOKERS, HEAR US SHOUT! KALE IS IN AND LETTUCE OUT! [4] FLAVORED YOGURT DOESN'T BUM US HALF AS MUCH AS ALL THE HUMMUS!

SECTION FOUR: The Marriage of Math and Literature (whatever): Read carefully each of the three word-bunches below. Then answer the question following each by drawing a line through three of the four suggested answers. Leave open only the answer you have chosen. But if you think these directions were written by a derp, no problem. Simply pencil a huge "X" across the directions and draw a doodle or two in the booklet's margins. Nobody will tut-tut you.

[1] Mark Twain, who made up his name, once wrote that the game of golf is "a good walk interrupted." QUESTION: How many times did Twain write this? (14) (1) (0) (3)

[2] William "Bill" Shakespeare, an obscure English poet and writer of plays, was born in 1564. QUESTION: In what year did he turn two? (1710) (562) (1566) (1656)

[3] Charles Dickens was an English author who wrote the now-forgotten novel, "A Tale of Two Cities," in 1859. The two cities were London and Paris. QUESTION: Suppose that Dickens had decided to add Rome to his novel, what then would have been his best title? (A Tale of Two Cities Plus a Third One) (A Tale of Four Cities Less One) (A Tale of Three Cities) (The Square Root of Nine Cities: A Tale of)

Nice going! You have come to the end of the SET. We who wrote the questions hope that you have sensed throughout that we are your friends. Please hand in your booklet to one of the soft-voiced grief counselors waiting at the exits. You may keep your pencil. As we used to say in our own high school hallways, "May the force be with you."

Charles Packard, a Camden resident, is a retired teacher of Latin, Academic Writing, and the History of Language.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Heidi Ruth Locke-Talbot | Apr 28, 2014 06:04

Point well taken! This is wonderful & yes we have lowered our expectations public schools where everyone gets a prize even if a student never earned one;(

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