Saturday, April 27, 2013

SAT Used Invented Language in the 1920s

In 1926, the standardized test known as the SAT was first administered. The version of the test was different from what it is now (of course), and the most amazing difference between what is was and what it is now is--in my humble opinion--the fact that the 1920s version included a section in which students translated an invented language. The Atlantic ran an article about it a couple weeks ago and include a sample section from that test.

I wish the SAT still had this type of information on the test. I remember being in a program at school where we had to translate a paragraph from Esperanto, and it took a lot of logic and step-by-step thinking to get through it. I don't think people give enough credit to what it takes to create or translate an invented language (and it helps that it's invented in exercises like these because it takes out some of the irregularities of natural languages that could make the process messier).

The following quote was taken from the article:
And while today's SAT has three core sections (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing), the SAT of 1926 had nine sub-tests, seven devoted to verbal skills and two devoted to math: Word Definitions, Arithmetical Problems, Word Classification, Antonyms, Number Series, Analogies, Logical Inference, Paragraph Reading, and Artificial Language. ... Still, the College Board's faux-netic language is a testament to how drastically educational priorities can change over time. In a world that increasingly emphasizes students' technical abilities, we take it for granted that math and verbal skills -- reasoning and communication -- should share the stage with each other. 1926, though, was a different time, with different educational goals.

Sure, I may have picked that quote for the 'faux-netic' in it, but the rest of it says something pretty important, too. I think it's interesting to think how much education has shifted (and still is shifting). It surprised me when I read this to realize how much of the test was devoted to verbal skills and how little was devoted to math. Our system seems to be almost the complete opposite today; even the verbal sections now often include elements of science or other disciplines (for example, reading a short essay about biology and responding to comprehension questions). I would like to get my hands on a full copy of one of those original SATs to see how the verbal sections were organized and what information each one targeted.