English Plus+ News, March 1999
After years of glacial changes, the decade of the nineties has seen some major changes in the Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, America's most widely-used college entrance exam.
Then the College Board, which publishes the SAT, decided to change the name of its subject area tests. They used to be called Achievement Tests. Since the word Assessment is broader in meaning, they decided to call those tests SAT's, too. That is, SAT-II. The "original" SAT, then was called the SAT-I.
The test names have caused some confusion, but most students refer to the SAT-I as the SAT's.
Major changes had taken place since then. In 1941 about five percent of America's high school graduates went on to college. Today it is around sixty percent. In our state of Connecticut it is seventy percent most years. That means that colleges have become larger and necessarily less selective. It is also true that, while more students finish high school today than in 1941, the graduation requirements as a whole are not as rigorous as they were in 1941. For both reasons, the College Board decided to re-score the average of the tests to reflect students entering college in 1995.
Some people said that it was about time because so many more students were attending college. Others decried this as another example of the "dumbing down" of America.
As an aside, if you want to see how scores differ today from before 1995, get a copy of English Plus's free Windows software SATCon, the SAT Score Converter. This program also has a Help file with an overview of the history of the SAT. You may download it from our download site at http://englishplus.com/pub/.
A writing skills section is nothing new to the SAT. The original SAT in the early part of the century was all essay. With the rise of psychological testing in Word War I, the College Board modified the SAT to include multiple-choice (multiple-guess?) questions. In 1941 the SAT became all multiple-choice.
Much of the time, however, there was a third, small section of the SAT. It was called the TSWE - Test of Standard Written English. It was scored very differently, on a scale of 60. It was supposed to be used to help college place students in freshman English classes. Colleges claimed that they paid less attention to this section in its admissions process.
In the eighties, colleges began to complain more about poorly prepared students who could not express themselves in writing. Nationwide, about one third of students entering college take some kind of remedial courses, most often in English or writing. While colleges tried to pressure high schools about this, colleges also turned to the College Board for help.
In 1994 it looked like the Board was not going to help. It did away with the TSWE altogether! But they were listening. Last year the PSAT instituted a third section, Writing Skills. It was identical to the old TSWE - questions of grammar and style. The PSAT had never had this before. This year the Writing Skills appears in the regular SAT-I. And it is not tucked away with a different score for freshman placement only.
Writing Skills is a now a fully-fledged member of the family. It is scored on the same 200-800 scale as the Math and Verbal sections.
Under the old system, the Verbal score was doubled and added to the Math score. That same student in the old system would have gotten a 185 (two times 60 plus 65). That TSWE writing section was not on the PSAT at all.
One reason the Verbal PSAT score was doubled for the National Merit Scholarship was to give women more of a chance. (The other reason was that the Verbal skills are needed in all subjects; many college majors do not require much math). Now that will not be necessary. The Writing Skills section basically adds another language-related score. If anything, the scores will favor female students. It may finally put an end to the rap that the SAT were biased towards males.
With the technological changes, the world has shrunk. English is more widely spoken than any other language - it is the second language of choice for most people in the world. Now more than ever we must be able to communicate effectively in English to people with a wide variety of backgrounds, dialects, and levels of fluency. Anything that will make the communication clearer will be good for everyone.
Recently a user was having a minor problem with his Nuts & Bolts utility program. This common utility has a number of features like crash guard, file encryption, disk cleanup, and so on. One of its features is a program which can take any appropriately sized picture in the Bitmap (.BMP) format and make that picture appear when you start or close Windows, instead of the "Clouds" or "Windows is shutting down" screen.
When he added some of his own bitmap pictures to the Nuts & Bolts folder so he could customize his startup screen, their names did not appear in the Nuts & Bolts "Open File" dialog box. Other .BMP files did. When he checked the files in Windows Explorer, he noticed that the Nuts & Bolts .BMP files had a "Normal" file attribute. This is actually unusual. Once a file is modified or copied, its attribute is changed to "Archive," which is actually most common attribute. He loaded the file names into his WinAlter program and clicked on the "Reset to Normal" menu command. This changed those file attributes from Archive to Normal. All the .BMP files now appeared in the Nuts & Bolts "Open File" dialog box. Now he has opening and closing screens of his own choosing.
This may not be as significant as getting into the college of your choice... but we were glad our program could help with this problem, too.
We at English Plus thank you for your suggestions and help. We appreciate your comments as we try to improve our web site and our products.
May all your anguish be vanquished,
Your friends at English Plus+
Any suggestions for our web site, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.