Big changes in the new SAT test announced recently caused quite a stir, especially that they were dropping the essay component. I was most excited, however, that they also were going to stop emphasizing “obscure” vocabulary words.

Not only do I think it’s ridiculous to force students to memorize lists of long words no one uses, but I think it’s a huge waste of precious class and homework time.

After years of working with students on their college application essays, I have seen how the emphasis in English classes on these obscure words oozed into students’ writing–and made it pedantic (look it up. haha.) and dull. Most think they sounded smarter when they use words like “deleterious” and “cacophony” in their essays.

It’s not their fault. The priority and energy energy devoted to teaching them these words was crazy.

I remember both my own kids spending hours at night during high school with homemade flashcards trying to cram words, such as, “effulgent” and “calumny” and “hegemony,” into their teenage brains, only to quickly forget them in time for the next batch of words. And teachers spent hours in class practicing these words and testing them, as well.

What was the point? This was invaluable time teachers could have been teaching writing, giving students creative assignments to practice expressing their opinions and ideas using real language. If students needed to build their vocabularies, there’s a whole other level of relevant, useful words they could have studied–instead of “pellucid” and “adumbrate.” (I still don’t know what those words mean.)

According to the New York Time’s article explaining the changes, The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary challenges will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, like “empirical” and “synthesis.” 

This quiet change could be one of the best things to happen to student writing in years! And for college admissions essays! Yippee! (Finally, the powers-that-be are advocating one of George Orwell’s famous rules on writing: “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” 

Obscure words do not make good writing. Using words effectively–starting with the short, everyday and relevant ones–does. Of course, if someone has a fascination for obscure words and enjoys the process of expanding her or his vocabulary, that’s great. But the rest of us just need to learn how to use the words in the common vernacular first, and then build upon those. The goal of writing is to express, not impress.

I remember this practice back when I was in high school in the ’70s, and learned words like “obsequious” and “plethora.” But it seemed to get worse in recent years. The main academic quality revealed by students who test well with the SAT vocabulary was a keen memory. I’m grateful that someone seems to be championing more important qualities (critical thinking? creative expression?) for future tests. Major kudos to whoever you are!

As for all you erudite readers prone to *grandiloquence, well, you are just going to have to suck it up! Especially when it comes to writing an effective college admissions essay.

* Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, especially in a way that is intended to impress

Okay, that got way too serious. You must check out Jimmy Fallon talking about the SAT changes:



Here’s a list of the Key Changes from the Times‘ article:

These will be among the changes in the new SAT, starting in the spring of 2016:

Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

■ The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

■ The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

■ The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

■ Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

■ Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

■ Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Ready to get back to writing? Check out How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps!

Also, have any questions, insights or ideas? I LOVE when readers leave comments!