# Education: Inside The New SAT

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But in the psychometric world, developed abilities are distinct from school achievements. To understand the difference, consider a sports metaphor: if you learn to hit free throws 90% of the time, that's a stellar basketball achievement. But what if you're so out of shape that you can't run up and down the court? Then your achievement won't matter much in an actual game. Your level of physical fitness is a developed ability: it's both an innate skill that helps determine how well you play basketball and an outcome of playing lots of basketball. Similarly, the more you challenge yourself intellectually, the more you condition your brain; your academic achievements are less impressive if you don't have the conditioning to build upon them. As the SAT becomes more an assessment of one's achievements, it will less sensitively gauge these underlying skills.

To be sure, it was never a perfect measure of developed abilities, which by their nature are more difficult to appraise than, say, how many plant names you memorized in botany. But what happens when you move away from trying to assess aptitude? Consider the reading section of the New SAT. In May, the College Board's Reading Development Committee decided that SAT item writers should feel free to use literary terminology in their questions for the reading section. Words that one would typically use only in a literature class--simile, personification--had always been avoided on the SAT, on the theory that a student should get credit for being able to comprehend the phrase "Youth is wasted on the young" even if he doesn't know to call it a paradox. No more. Although the committee decided that the most arcane lit terms (metonymy, for instance) won't appear on the SAT, terms like simile are now fair game.

The use of technical language will also increase in math. For instance, in the past, an SAT item might have stipulated that group A has 10 members and group B has 10 + 5x members, where x = 3. What's the total number in both groups? Add the 10 from group A and the 10 + (5 x 3) from group B. You get 35. But on the New SAT, the question might read, "What is the union of sets A and B?" Union and set are terms of art for mathematicians; a "union of two sets" is everything in both sets. The answer is still 35, but you must know the jargon to get it.

In May, I saw a statistical analysis of one math question that had been rewritten to include a specialized math term. We can't print the question because it may appear on a future SAT, but I can report this: when the specialized term was added, the percentage of students who got the right answer in a field trial fell, from 68% to 21%--a staggering decline of 47 percentage points. Who are all those students who could do the math but didn't know the specialized language?