Author Archives: Mike Bergin

The general public still holds the SAT synonymous with highly advanced–some might say abstruse, arcane, or esoteric–even though the last major test revision dispensed with question types devoted to that topic. I often joke that the test makers veered away from strict vocabulary testing for two important reasons. First, graphical literacy matters more than an advanced lexicon in the 21st century. Second, College Board and ACT both realized that they don’t need to throw fancy words at students who struggle just as much with everyday terminology! To be fair, grammar and reading questions designed to challenge vocabulary knowledge don’t test basic words any more than they test highly advanced or technical terms. Instead, test makers focus on a sweet spot called Tier Two Vocabulary. The concept of sorting vocabulary words into tiers is linked to the influential book Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown,…

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How is a test like a duck? They may appear unruffled and serene on the surface, but underneath they are usually paddling frantically. Great tests, meaning those designed to be valid, fair, and reliable, require tremendous effort and insight to put together. Casual observers may see a random assemblage of items, but those in the know can glimpse the many hands–not to mention reams of data and decades of experience–that go into crafting entire tests, specific sections, and even individual questions for standardized exams like the SAT and ACT. Basically, assessment design goes very, very deep. If you are going to spend weeks, months, or perhaps even years of your life analyzing test questions, some insight into testing terminology can’t hurt. ITEM A test question–both the problem itself and any answer choices–is called an item. Tests can feature all sorts of objective and subjective items. The standardized tests used for…

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Every time I see this e-card, I have to laugh. Most of our students would smile too, since we always call out “for all intensive purposes” as a classic word usage error. The grammarians at the College Board and ACT, Inc. have been known to torment kids with, among other things, eggcorns and malapropisms: An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, e.g. take it for granite instead of take it for granted. We create eggcorns all the time when we try to decode the lyrics to our favorite songs. A malapropism, on the other time, occurs when the substitution creates a nonsensical phrase. Classical malapropisms generally derive their comic effect from the fault of…

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Aeschylus, the renowned playwright of ancient Greece, is remembered as the father of tragedy. His works often visited themes such as disaster, downfall, and divine justice, which provided ample opportunity to connect suffering to learning: “Suffering brings experience.” “Wisdom comes through suffering.” “The reward of suffering is experience.” “Only through suffering do we learn.” “Nothing forces us to know what we do not want to know except pain.” Aeschylus was not the only philosopher to opine about how excruciating experience and knowledge can be to come by: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius “Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson “Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for.” — Marian Wright Edelman…

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When you want to prep for a standardized test–and you should always prep–the right class can offer the optimal mix of insight, expertise, and value. Assuming you can find a class taught by proven experts that includes both curriculum instruction and practice testing and review, you should sign up… as long as group instruction makes sense for you. Just keep in mind that even the best class should be seen not as a complete package but rather as a powerful foundation for success. What does this mean? A class is a start. When you take a cooking class, you don’t instantly master cuisine just because an instructor supervised the preparation of one easy recipe. Becoming a great chef requires the same elements mastery in every field demands: practice and coaching. The right class provides essential information and techniques for success that only become yours through additional work. Over the years,…

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The current paradigm of SAT and ACT testing in the state of New York generally sees high schoolers testing at high schools, with the vast majority of students engaged in Saturday testing. Students in many other states benefit from free school day administrations, but the SAT and/or ACT take the place of traditional state assessment tests in those states. While NYC has piloted the use of standardized admissions tests for assessment purposes, we do not seem to be anywhere close to replacing the Regents. This does not, however, eliminate the opportunity for a high school to administer the SAT or ACT in its own classrooms during the school day. In fact, both College Board and ACT have created paths that allow schools to serve as school day test centers for their own students. The question, of course, is, “Why bother?” Who exactly benefits from SAT and ACT school day testing?…

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