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Posts tagged ‘essays’

The New SAT Sounds a Lot Easier Than the One You Took

cbnew_blue_RGBYou might have heard that the SAT is getting redesigned again. Among other changes, the plan is to shift back to the old 1600 point scale that old farts like me took. (That’s the way it was pre-2005.) It’ll also be the first test available in both print and digital form, a change which seems almost comically overdue. These changes won’t take effect until 2016.

On top of those changes, there are a number of shifts that bring the test more closely in line with the Common Core State Standards, the guidelines that dictate what students should know by the time they’ve completed a certain grade.

Whether you love or hate the Common Core (and everyone seems to be torn between those two extremes), I think it is reasonably safe to say that the SAT of the near future will be a less stressful experience than what you and I remember. Here are a few of the changes for the easier:

1. The essay section is optional

Though it’s less than 10 years old, the essay portion of the test is going to become entirely optional. It’s likely certain colleges and programs will require it and others will not. But generally speaking, the essay will only be attempted by students who are pretty confident in their writing ability. Like when the essay section was originally introduced. I’m of two minds about this change. On the one hand, it’s too bad that learning how to write is apparently considered an “optional” skill. On the other hand, judging an essay on a fixed, standardized scale just encourages writing what the judges want to see, and that’s often not the same thing as good writing. So maybe having an essay on the SAT was always kind of a ridiculous addition.

2. No more penalties for guessing

As you no doubt remember, in an effort to discourage wild, random guessing, an incorrect answer on a multiple choice question on the SAT was actually worth negative points. I have no complaints whatsoever about the new test ditching the guess penalty; it was always a dumb rule anyway. I had a physics teacher in high school who applied the same rule to his tests. However, the point deductions were much, much larger since quizzes would typically only have 10-12 questions on them. True story, I had a friend who, because of this scoring system, once scored a -3/100.

3. Less topics covered by the math section

Rethinking the SAT as a true college preparatory test, the math section is going to cover a less extensive range of topics. The idea is to focus primarily on the ideas that will carry over into college, which won’t necessarily cover everything from high school. Goodbye geometry.

4. Less esoteric vocabulary

As an English major, this one bugs me a little. The new vocabulary list is going to do away with less commonly used words in favor of words that are more likely to be used in students’ future college and professional careers. You might lose a word like… well, like “esoteric”… in place of a word like “empirical” which is more likely to show up in a college course. No doubt this will make the vocab section easier, but what worries me is the impact this will have on etymology. While plenty of people would argue with me that it’s not important to learn the origins of words, understanding how the various roots and fragments come together to express ideas is incredibly useful to studying any language. You might never use a word like “exculpate,” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in knowing that “inculpable,” “culpability” and “mea culpa” are all built from the same root.

So what do you think? Is it a good thing that the test is taking actual high school and college work into deeper consideration? Or do you think the new test sounds too “dumbed down”?

 

How Shared Stressing Out Helps You Relax

tired students with tablet pc, books and notebooks

Misery loves company. A new study out of USC argues that stress is reduced when the experience is shared. In other words, complaining about your ridiculous deadlines, unreasonable professors, and brutal workloads with your classmates is actually a valid coping mechanism.

For the study, researchers measured cortisol (a hormone released in stressful situations) levels among participants completing a public speaking task. Participants who were allowed to discuss the task among one another in advance were notably less stressed than those in isolation.

The key was the emotional state of the person who spoke with the participant. When the emotional profiles were the same — because they were in a similar situation — stress levels decreased. That suggests there’s something more socially advanced going on than simple catharsis. Stress levels aren’t just dropping because the participants are getting the stress off their backs, they’re dropping because the participants see that someone else is stressed out too. There’s an automatic surge of social support that comes just from knowing somebody else is having a similar reaction.

So next time your professor announces that you’ll be having a final paper AND a final exam, don’t call up your parents or your boyfriend/girlfriend to complain. They’ll support you, saying, “I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

But you’ll feel a lot better talking to that person who sits next to you in lectures, who’ll tell you, “This is impossible. We are both going to fail.” It’s just nice to know someone else feels the same.

Should All Tests Be Open Book?

Posted by Reddit user snerro

Posted by Reddit user snerro

A thread on Reddit with the above image kicked off an interesting discussion by teachers and students on the value of memorization in education. As often happens with stuff we find on Reddit, we carried the discussion back into the office, and not all of us were on the same page. Here’s what we thought:

Gavin

I’m a big promoter of practical testing. I don’t think ‘multiple guess’ tests really show anyone what you know or how well you can apply that knowledge, but mostly if you are a good test taker or not. Out in the real world you are rewarded for your ability to problem solve and find the answers, rather than knowing an answer from memory. Furthermore I am also a fan of portfolios vs. test scores to showcase one’s knowledge and achievements. I would say I strongly agree with the puffin.

Jesse

While having an open book test could encourage resourcefulness, you still have to know, roughly, where in your notes or text the answer can be found.  To me, it sounds like you’re taking the risk of spending more time on the back end, during the physical test, than on the front end by actually knowing and understanding the material. If I’m having open heart surgery do I want my surgeon to have an anatomy chart open on the table while he’s cutting me open? Or how much time does it waste when your cashier has to look up each and every code of every item you purchase? I’ll take my chances on a med student that’s been forced to memorize everything or general edu student that’s taken the time and effort to memorize their class materials over someone who hasn’t.

Justin

I’m not a fan of standardized testing as I don’t believe it accurately reflects one’s intelligence. People in the real world are allowed to use their resources, pool their knowledge with others, collaborate and problem solve to come to a conclusion. I think the meme is accurate in that memorization is not education; memorization is just one of many tools that you have. One’s score or overall intelligence shouldn’t be solely tied to that.

Holly

Textbooks can be a convoluted mess. I always thought that I would do a better job on a test if it was open book, but I spent so much time searching for answers that I would skirt the line of completing a test on time. Cramming for a test only helped me to take tests faster. Memorizing enough information to answer correctly or with an educated guess always proved successful for me, so I didn’t have a problem with it. I disagree with the advice puffin. Yes, it’s true that in real life you have an opportunity to ask someone for help. But it’s also important to have a base knowledge in place.

Chris

I don’t think this issue is as much about the merits of memorization as it is about whether or not a test is well-designed. The point of a test is to apply knowledge, sure, but writing a persuasive essay, making an educated guess, and solving for X are all different valid ways to apply knowledge. That variety is important, since each type of test exercises a different skill set. I wouldn’t ever argue that all tests should be open book, but I think they get too needlessly stressful when they’re designed in a way that tries both your ability to recall and your ability to apply, like an art history final where you need to remember exact spelling for Islamic art and artists. (This one happened to me, extra ridiculousness points because those names and terms were transliterated from Arabic anyway.)

What do you think?

The Five Stages of Grief Writing a Final Paper

A sad panda

Sad panda

For some, the final paper is even more dreaded than the final exam. At least with an exam, you can only do so much work in the time given. With a paper, there’s this sinister feeling that you always could have done more. So naturally, you put off thinking about it as long as you can.

I was reading the other day about the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the Five Stages of Grief. I thought I’d overlay the same ideas onto the process of writing a final paper. The comparison was uncanny.

STAGE 1 — DENIAL

“Professor ____ gave us the final today, but I’ve got like 2 and a half weeks to do it. Plenty of time.”

The student engages in a conscious or unconscious rejection of the situation. The disruption of his/her schedule is seen as an opportunity for more active forms of procrastination. His/her sense of time is distorted. The student seeks constant social interaction to avoid engaging with vague sense of impending doom. Bravo reality TV programming suddenly becomes fascinating.

STAGE 2 — ANGER

“What is this crap? 15 freaking pages of this? She barely even covered this in class.”

When the student is ready to engage with the assignment, he/she initially rejects the terms of the assignment as unreasonable. Feelings of outrage may be directed as the instructor, the institution, noisy neighbors and roommates, friends who keep sending emails and texts saying they’re going out tonight, the stupid library, stupid Internet, and stupid Microsoft Word, or perhaps even at the student’s stupid self for signing up for this stupid class in the first place.

STAGE 3 — BARGAINING

“Okay, I’ll start in the morning. One more party tonight, then I’ll get started in the morning, I promise.”

Students may attempt to bargain with themselves, e.g., offering an hour of work in exchange for an hour getting out of the dorm/apartment. They may also attempt to appease a higher power, sending emails to the instructor testing  the flexibility of the page count or appealing for an extension.

STAGE 4 — DEPRESSION

“I can’t do this. This is impossible. What is wrong with me? Why did I wait until today. Guhhh…”

The student becomes silent and stares blankly at his/her monitor. Posture is slumped. Head may be flat against desk or keyboard. In the earlier stages, comments may be left on social media networks looking for sympathetic responses. In the later stages, acts of procrastination will no longer feature any elements of fun. The blank Word document will be opened and stared at for an indeterminate period of time.

STAGE 5 — ACCEPTANCE

“I haven’t slept in 36 hours. I’ve eaten three consecutive meals of Kraft mac n’ cheese and Dr. Pepper. I have no idea what I wrote. But it doesn’t matter. It’s done.”

After realizing he/she doesn’t even have the time to be depressed anymore, the student begins the assignment. Without any energy to devote toward emotional reactions anymore, the student pours out a series of stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto his/her keyboard. Stray glances at the clock only confirm that there isn’t time to look at the clock. Upon completion and submission of the assignment, the student receives an inexplicable surge of energy, later followed by an exhausted crash. Sometimes this happen in reverse.

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