Monthly Archives: April 2012

19 Apr 2012

Charm your way to a perfect score: Harry Potter and Latin roots!

Tuesday’s blog post hinted that young adult literature is a surprisingly good place to pick up SAT vocabulary. As a follow up, I want to explore our most enchanting YA resource: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Brimming with Latin-based names and incantations, Harry Potter is a fun and helpful guide to Latin roots you’ll find on the SAT.

How many Latin roots can you find in Harry Potter? Here are the roots of 10 spells (with related SAT vocabulary!) to get you started:

1. Confundo (Confundus Charm) — This spell, which causes the victim to become confused, comes from the Latin root, con, which means “with.” In this case, con implies a mixing up of sorts. All things are thrown together to become muddled, enmeshed, and indistinguishable… confused.

SAT Words with the Root con:

  • contiguous: sharing an edge or boundary; touching
  • consensus: agreement, accord
  • conjecture: an inference based upon guesswork

2. Crucio (Cruciatus Curse) – This is a curse of torture or pain. Derived from the Latin root, cruci meaning “cross,” or “torture,” the Crucio curse should be avoided at all costs!

SAT Words with the Root cruci:

  • excruciating: very painful; extreme
  • crucible: a severe, searching test or trial
  • crucify: to treat with gross injustice; persecute; torment; torture

3. Deletrius – A spell that makes things disappear or vanish. This spell has the Latin root, de, which means “away from,” “removing,” or “down.”

SAT Words with the Root de:

  • deleterious: harmful; injurious
  • depreciation: a decrease in value
  • destitute: abandoned; forsaken

4. Expecto Patronum (Patronus Charm) – This spell is used to repel dementors. Patronum is based on the Latin root, patr, which means father. By extension, we can also take patr to indicate protectiveness and high rank.

SAT Words with the Root patr:

  • patrician: a person of noble rank; an aristocrat
  • patricide: the act of killing one’s father
  • patriarch: father

5. Expelliarmus (Disarming Charm) – A disarming spell; often used to force opponents to drop their wands. This spell contains the Latin roots ex, meaning, “off,” “away from,” or “out,” and arma, which means “weapons.”

SAT Words with the Root ex or arma:

  • exonerate: to free from blame or guilt
  • expunge: delete; remove
  • armistice: a temporary suspension of hostilities; a truce
  • armature: armor

6. Impedimenta (Impediment Jinx) – This jinx trips, freezes, binds, or otherwise blocks an opponent’s approach. Fittingly, this walk-stopping jinx contains the root, ped, Latin for “foot.”

SAT Words with the Root ped:

  • Expedite: to speed up the progress of; to accelerate
  • Pedestrian: Undistinguished; ordinary; conventional
  • Impede: To hinder the progress of

7. Imperio (Imperius Curse) – One of the three “Unforgivable Curses,” the Imperius Curse places the subject in a dream-like state in which he/she is completely subject to the will of the caster. Using this curse can result in life imprisonment in Azkaban. Imperio comes from the root impero, which means “command.”

SAT Words with the Root impero:

  • imperious: domineering and arrogant
  • imperative: absolutely necessary or required

8. Lumos – A spell that produces a narrow beam of light that shines from the tip of a wand, Lumos derives from the Latin, lum or luc, meaning “light.”

SAT Words with the Root lum or luc:

  • elucidate: to make clear or plain
  • luminary: a famous, inspiring person
  • pellucid: transparent; translucent

9. Morsmordre (Dark Mark) – Morsmorde is a spell that produces the Dark Mark—symbol of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. It comes from the Latin root, mort, meaning death. Notice that mort is the root of Voldemort’s name, as well.

SAT Words with the Root mort:

  • mortify: to humiliate
  • remorse: sincere and deep regret
  • moribund: approaching death

10. Wingardium Leviosa (Levitation/Hover Charm) – One of the first spells taught to Hogwarts students, Wingardium Leviosa lifts objects so they float in the air. Wingardium contains the Latin root arduus, meaning “high” or “difficult,” and Leviosa sprouts from lev, which means “lift” or “light.”

SAT Words with the Root arduus or lev:

  • arduous: laborious; difficult; requiring great exertion
  • alleviate: to relieve; to lessen
  • levity: lightness of mind, character or behavior
10 Apr 2012

Debunking the Right/Left Brain Myth: What does this mean for standardized tests?

You’ve probably heard that left-brained people are logical, organized, and good at science and math, while right-brainers are creative, artsy, good at spacial reasoning and, perhaps, at interpreting the tone of a book. Maybe you’ve even used this distinction to describe yourself?

While there’s certainly no harm in using left/right brain terminology to illustrate the activities you enjoy, it’s important to take this distinction with a grain of salt. Why? Because the theory is not based in actual science. In other words: it’s bunk.

In an article for the Washington Post, University of Virginia psychology professor, Daniel Willingham discusses the parts of the brain involved in “learning a sequence,” typically considered a left-brain task. He writes,

In this brain imaging study some colleagues and I found that 14 brain areas contribute to the sequencing task we examined. “Sequential thought” is supposed to be a left brain function, but we observed five areas in the left hemisphere, five in the right, and four bilateral. (That is, the activity was in corresponding areas of both the left and right hemispheres.)

I say “sequencing” and that corresponds to 14 different brain areas! So thinking that we can identify an array of these tasks–logical thinking, language, math, and others–that all depend mostly on one hemisphere seems a little far-fetched. More to the point, we know it’s inaccurate.

So, different abilities are not controlled by distinct, hierarchically arranged sides of the brain. What does this mean for high school students preparing for college admissions tests? The SAT is split between sections that test reading, writing, and math. The ACT adds science to the mix. A motley crew of subjects, indeed! If you’re inclined toward the right/left brain theory, you might say: “Well, I’m right-brained. Maybe I can do OK on SAT verbal… but math just ain’t my thing!” Or, worse: “I’m right-brained. I’m a boss at art, but I suck at logic, analysis, and reasoning. The SAT just ain’t my thing!”

Left/Right brain distinctions dichotomize our abilities and act like destiny. They tell us that, because we’re good at one thing, we can’t possibly be good at it’s (alleged) inverse. Left/right brain distinctions downplay possible connections between different types of thought–the seeming relatedness between pattern-recognition, analysis, and intuitive interpretation. Recognizing such relationships opens the possibility for students to use inborn talents as a springboard for developing weaker areas.

Or maybe debunking the left/right brain myth just tells us that one’s gift for science has absolutely nothing to do with spatial reasoning or talent in art. You can be both intensely creative and intensely analytical. One does not prevent or undermine the other, so we get to nurture multiple, “contradictory” gifts.

Anyway, my point is: If you’re a high school student getting ready for the SAT/ACT, don’t let mythological notions about your dominant half-brain prevent you from trying for a good score in all sub-tests. Ditto that for different subjects in school.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

motley: made up of different colors or parts
dichotomy: division into two mutually exclusive, opposed or contradictory groups
alleged: doubtful; suspect; supposed

03 Apr 2012

How would you do on the very first SAT ever given?

Ever wondered about the history of the SAT? Probably not… but it makes for an interesting blog post, nevertheless! How has the SAT changed over time?

A Brief History of the SAT

On June 23, 1926, the first SAT was administered to about 8,000 young men, most of whom applied to Yale University. It contained nine sub-tests, 7 with verbal content, and 2 that tested math. Time-limits were fierce: students had 97 minutes to answer 314 questions and were told, in rather bizarre language, that they should not expect to finish.

An outgrowth of IQ tests given to army recruits during World War 1, the original SAT aimed to objectively measure intelligence. By 1945, however, most question types rooted in intelligence testing were eliminated–subsumed by problems that more directly assessed learned academic skills. No longer a test of inborn intelligence, the SAT became a way to quantify college preparedness. This shift in emphasis harbingers the exam’s eventual name change; originally an acronym for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” SAT no longer stands for anything at all.

An example of this shift can be seen by comparing a 1934 “six-choice antonym” question to contemporary sentence completion questions. “Six-choice antonym” questions required students to look at a group of four words and choose the two that are “opposite in meaning.” They are called “six-choice” questions because students select from six possible answer choices: (1, 2); (1, 3); (1, 4); (2, 3); (2, 4); and (3, 4).

Here is a medium-level “six-choice antonym” question:

gregarious (1)      solitary (2)      elderly (3)      blowy (4)

(Answer: 1, 2)

Source: A Historical Perspective on the SAT: 1926 – 2001
Click here for two additional early SAT questions

As an official College Board report explains, “six-choice antonym” questions act a bit like a puzzle. There are two basic ways to solve this type of question. The first requires students to look at the words as a group and instantly determine which two are opposites. Another approach has students cross-check the words, one by one. (Is (1) the opposite of (2)? If not, is (1) the opposite of (3)?” And so on.) Of course, this method takes a lot longer than the first method, and given the intense time-limits of the early SAT, students who employed it were at a serious disadvantage, regardless of the solidity and breadth of their vocabulary.

Today’s Sentence Completion questions place more emphasis on vocabulary and reading because their format allows students to anticipate precisely what kind of word is needed. As College Board’s official report states, “In the sentence completion item the candidate is asked to do a kind of thing which he does naturally when reading: to make use of the element of redundancy inherent in much verbal communication to obtain meaning from something less than the complete communication.” In other words, rather than a puzzle, sentence completion questions are akin to a matching game: we already know what the sentence means, so what words can we insert to maintain or reinforce this meaning?

Other changes to the SAT have similarly aimed to make the test a better measure of content knowledge. For example, time-limits are frequently reset to reduce the impact of time on test performance. As mentioned above, the first SAT gave students 97 minutes to complete 9 sub-tests. In 1928, the test was reduced to 7 sub-tests, and test-takers were given 115 minutes. The current test (as you hopefully know) is 10 sections, completed in 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Other changes, such as the 1994 addition of student-produced responses to the math section, strive to reduce the effectiveness of guessing, test-taking strategy and special preparation. (By special preparation, I mean last-minute, superficial memorization of formulas & facts, not reading widely and understanding math concepts).

Both the SAT and it’s place in society have evolved greatly since 1926. Once a marginal assessment taken only by 8,000 ivy-bound men, the SAT is now given to over 2,000,000 students annually and plays an essential role in scholarship and college admissions decisions. I hope that this small history helps you better understand the SAT’s purpose & point, as it has evolved over time.