Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

On tomorrow’s Please Explain, we’ll be delving deep into the history and the construction of standardized tests. Standardized tests, once used only to test a select group for college readiness, have become ubiquitous in today’s accountability environment, used for everything from merit scholarships to international comparisons to shutting down schools. Tomorrow, CUNY Professors Howard Everson and David Rindskopf—experts in the field of test design and implementation who have worked on everything from the SAT to the New York State proficiency exams, respectively—will explain to us how this came to be and just what tests can and can’t tell us. Before that, though, we want to test you!

Below you’ll find a sampling of SAT questions through the ages—from the 1926 exam to the present. You’ll also find a link to the most recent New York State 8th grade math and ELA exams. Unlike most standardized tests, we’re giving you a full twenty four hours to work on your answers—but make sure to come to class prepared tomorrow. Let us know how you did in the comments!

SAT Questions through the Ages:

1934/1943 Questions:

(Taken from “A Historical Perspective on the SAT” by Ida Lawrence, Gretchen W. Rigol, Thomas Van Essen, and Carol A. Jackson. Available here.)

Verbal Section: Identifying antonyms has long been part of the SAT. During the period between 1926 and 1951, the question was called the “six-choice antonym.” According to Lawrence et al in their paper, “A Historical Perspective on the SAT”, “test takers were given a group of four words and told to select the two that were “opposite in meaning”…These were called “six-choice” questions because there were six possible pairs of numbers from which to choose: (1,2), (1,3), (1,4), (2,3), (2,4), and (3,4). Two examples:

1. Select the two words that are opposite in meaning: (from 1934 test)

                        1. Gregarious  2. Solitary  3. Elderly  4. Blowy

2. Select the two words that are most nearly opposite in meaning: (from 1943 test)

                        1. Divulged     2. Esoteric  3. Eucharistic  4. Refined

Math Section: Shockingly, the Math part of the SAT was not always given as part of the test. The SAT tests given in 1928 and 1929 and between 1936 and 1941 did not have any mathematics questions. Here are two examples, one from a 1934 test and another from a 1943 test:

1. (From 1934) Write the answer to these questions as quickly as you can. In solving the problems on geometry, use the information given and your own judgment on the geometrical properties of the figures to which you are referred.*

2. (From 1943) If 4b +2c = 4, 8b – 2c = 4, 6b-3c = (?)

                        (a) -2   (b) 2     (c) 3     (d) 6     (e) 10

2010 Questions: Today, the SAT today is made up of three parts: Writing, Math, and Critical Reading. (In 2005 the test changed from having two sections, “Math” and “Verbal”.). Here are two examples from the Math and Critical Reading sections from a practice test posted on the College Board’s website. The full test is available here.

            Critical Reading: (Sentence Completion)

  1. Geysers vary widely: some may discharge _______, whereas others may have only a brief explosive eruption and then remain _________ for hours or days.
    1. Violently…dangerous
    2. Continuously…quiescent
    3. Spontaneously…unpredictable
    4. Regularly…active
    5. Faintly…imperceptible
  2. Only after the campaign volunteers became aware of their candidate’s questionable motives could they recognize the ______ statements made in his seemingly _______ speeches.
    1. Insightful…astute
    2. Partisan…callous
    3. Cordial…hostile
    4. Duplicitous…candid
    5. Cunning…surreptitious


  1. If a positive integer n is picked at random from the positive integers less than or equal to 10, what is the probability that 5n +3 ≤ 14?

(a) 0           (b) 1/10            (c) 1/5              (d) 3/10            (e) 2/5

     2.  If t is a number greater than 1, then t2 [t-squared] is how much greater than t?

    (a) 1           (b) 2                 (c) t                  (d) t(t-1)          (e) (t-1)(t+1)

    New York State Proficiency Tests: Here are links to the most recent 8th grade New York State proficiency tests. We’ll be going over the test design and some of the test questions on tomorrow's Please Explain. Over the summer, when New York Times reporter Jennifer Medina wrote a story about a remedial math class, she was surprised to find that many readers themselves had trouble with the questions. See how you do on an admittedly easier test - no cheating by looking at the answer key!

    Link to the full 8th Grade Math test.

    Link to the full 8th Grade ELA test.

    *As Lawrence et al note: “These questions are straightforward but are not as precise as those written today. In the first question, students were expected to assume that the measure of angle C was 90° because the angle looked like a right angle. The only way to find AB was to use the Pythagorean theorem assuming that triangle ABC was a right triangle. The primary challenge of these early tests was mental quickness: How many questions could the student answer correctly in a brief period of time? (Braswell, 1978)”