Several years ago I was an active and reasonably well-regarded college counselor and consultant. At one point, I was asked to advise the admissions offices at several colleges and universities, wrote several college guides, and sat as a member of the executive committee of the Midwest College Board. I mention these luminous moments only to explain how it happened that I came to write sample questions for the SAT, a process by which the Educational Testing Service generated new questions, plugged them in the experimental sections of administered SATs, then checked the questions in a lively fashion, determining that the right test takers got the question right and the right test takers got the question wrong.
See, if successful test takers (not necessarily exceptional people – just good at taking tests) got an “easy” question wrong, badda bing, badda bong, it’s dead. If a not-so-successful test taker (someone clearly not good at taking tests) got a “tough” question right, equally badda whatever.
The sorting process has become notably more sophisticated as ETS had to address charges that what was once known as the SAT Verbal test was less a test of verbal aptitude than a test of cultural familiarity with verbal constructs, heavily biased in the favor of White middle to upper class students. The current version of “aptitude” testing now presents the Evidence Based Reading and Writing Test, a better test I admit, although those previously advantaged test populations are still more likely to seek and afford paid tutorial preparation, thereby mitigating even the best efforts of the question hounds at ETS.
All of that aside, it strikes me that a quest for the most individually culturally biased test might help reveal so much about the person constructing the test that the entire enterprise might shrink in the harsh light of public scrutiny
1. When stepping from the shower, one should first dry
a. the back
b. the shower stall
c. the shoulders
d. the face
e. all of the above
The correct answer, of course, is d -the face.
2. The best place to order eggs is
a. a diner
b. a henhouse
c. Chez Rudolfo
d. none of the above or below
e. my house
Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, d – none of the above or below. The best place is Grains of Montana Restaurant and Bakery in Billings.
3. If Mares eat oats and does eat oats, what do little lambs eat?
b. whatever they want
c. clams casino
e. even smaller lambs
No brainer. Ivy, of course. d.
4. Moses supposes his toeses are roses but Moses supposes
a. they aren’t
No doubt. d – erroneously. See Singin’ in the Rain and try again next year.
5. Should it happen that you are made responsible for finding entertainment for a wedding reception, the first call might be made to
a. Lester Lanin, Peter Duchin, Meyer Davis, etc
b. Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts
c. Clean Bandit
d. Robbie Hart
e. Dope Calypso
The answer is d – Robbie Hart, of course, a character made famous by Adam Sandler.
At this point, even the most casual of test takers has noticed that the correct answers are always option d. It’s THAT sort of perspicacity (SAT verbal Oct. 1988) that sets the successful test taker apart from the rest of the herd.
I’m just putting this out in the universe in case ETS is ready to break with tradition, convention, and scientific accuracy in order to make testing more specifically attuned to the test engineer’s experience and imagination. I’d like to think I’ll be called back into action by the College Board, Berkeley, Brown, and the International School of Paris, but the correct answer, I fear, is none of the above.