kitchen table math, the sequel: A Questionable Question

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Questionable Question

I haven't been doing much in the way of SAT Critical Reading lately. I've got bigger fish to fry.

That said, I don't want to lose momentum.....and, if the truth be told, I've come to love the Critical Reading sections (and yes, I am telling the truth).

Thanks in large part to my marathon lunch dates with Erica Meltzer, I rarely get a reading question wrong these days. You can click on this page to see myrenditions of her Critical Reading "recipes" (i.e. don't blame Erica if you don't understand. I take full responsibility for the translation.)

But every once in a while, I come across a question that stumps me.

Take, for example, the following:

Flummoxed, I answered incorrectly. I knew my answer was wrong, but I couldn't see a right answer.

Ok, STOP reading before you see the explanation below, and tell me:

  • A) Which one would you choose?
  • B) Which one do you think I picked?

I'm obsessed, determined, and like a dog with a bone: I asked nearly everyone I know, "is this question legit?"

PWNtheSAT 's response made the most sense (to me):

Tough question, but it's legit. You can't infer A through D, because they're all too specific. You can't really ever infer a phrase was "first used" unless the author comes right out and says it directly. There's no mention of "college educated" women, and WWII is really only mentioned to establish a setting. So you COULD get it by elimination if you're careful.

The real reason the answer is legit, though, can best be illustrated with analogy.

What would you think if you read that "some people ALREADY had internet access in 1985," or "Springsteen was ALREADY a local hero in New Jersey before he broke nationally"?

The implication, when you use "already" in this sense, is that something is ahead of the curve. "Male chauvinist" is a common phrase today, but it clearly wasn't then or the author wouldn't have felt the need to say "already." So the implication is that in 1945, use of the phrase was rare, but it's commonplace today.

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Cross posted on the Perfect Score Project


Glen said...

I picked (E) and I think you picked (D).

Here's why:
A) It doesn't say it was first used in New York. But the question wasn't about what it said, but what it implied. Did it IMPLY it? I don't see an implication that NY was first, just that it was EARLY. In fact, by negative evidence, if NY had been first, I think it would have said so, because "already in use" is weaker evidence for their thesis, which would be poor writing, which is not what the SAT usually uses for readings.

B) Similar to (A), so no. There's no implication that it hadn't been first used in NY in, say, 1944, the previous year, just that it had already been used by 1945, which was still early.

C) Easy elimination. No mention of college-educated women or college or even education.

D) I assumed that the article would tie feminism and WWII together, as so many articles do. (Men go off to war, women have to do the work, discover they're good at it, they like it....) It's an immediately recognizable theme to someone who reads a lot. But the passage wasn't long enough to get to the point. I got to the point by recognition, but I'm not sure they had even implied a connection yet. But maybe just mentioning WWII instead of 1945 was enough of an implication for the SAT. It depends on what option (E) is.

(E) My own analysis of point (A) made it clear that I believed the implication wasn't that NY was first, just early. Since "early" has to be relative to most, there must be a most coming along later. That could be wishful thinking (I have to find SOME answer), but it's still stronger than all but (D). And the strength of (D) is in my own mind, not what was written. So (E) is probably it.

But then I had to go back again and ask myself if I was justified in inferring each one, based only on what was written. That made it clearer to me that I had the most reason for inferring (E).

Then, since Catherine said she got it wrong, and (E) was probably right, that made (D) the best choice for Catherine. The more you know about the topic, the more likely you are to anticipate a point before it's made and to (mistakenly in this case) assume it had been at least implied. Knowledge-based reading comprehension means that you hear more than is actually said, for better or worse.

So, my choice is (E), and I guess Catherine, you went for (D).

Rivka said...

This question seems easy to me. I picked E pretty quickly. If I go back to reconstruct my reasoning: "already been used there" implies that NYC was an early adopter of the phrase. I know it was later used everywhere, so that must have been after 1945.

Allison said...

I picked E.
I think the author *implies* ""its use became common after1945" is awkward, but technically accurate. I am to assume the phrase became common, though that's not stated anywhere, so if it were to have become common, then the passage highlights NYC as a user seemingly before it became common, so it must have become common outside after 1945.

I have a problem with the passage assuming the phrase became common at all (I doubt it's a phrase teens and college women today hear, in fact) but the rest holds together relatively well.

INothing in the passage implies "First" usage, and nothing in the passage implies college educated is "smart". All that leaves is D, which you could argue is not not implied, so to speak.

I guess you picked D.

Allison said...

Btw, I think only the writers are of an age to believe the phrase is common today, not typical age test takers.

Male Chauvinist Pig had its day. That phrase is as dated as bell bottoms or argyle socks now--70s or 80s, at the latest, and then it died.

Catherine Johnson said...

I picked E, too (Debbie wrote the post) - but it took me awhile.

(btw, now that I'm doing SAT prep, I realize I don't know the difference between 'a while' and 'awhile'...)

Anyway, it took me awhile (or a while) because to my knowledge the phrase "male chauvinist pig" became common in the 1970s, not the 1950s, and the expression "after 1945" is used to mean "not long after 1945."

Literally, of course, "after 1945" includes any year after 1945, but that's not the way the phrase is used.

This question is the ultimate example of having to read SAT passages like a 13-year old with Asperger syndrome.

Glen said...

I picked E, too (Debbie wrote the post) - but it took me awhile.

Oops. I tend to assume that "I" in most header posts means you, Catherine. Since I know less about Debbie, I can't guess what her wrong answer might have been.

And, as for "a while/awhile," you may know already, but "a while" is a noun phrase that usually works as an object: "take a while / give me a while / for a while / been quite a while / etc." This is usually what you mean.

"Awhile" is a somewhat old-fashioned adverb ("sit awhile" / "we talked awhile" / "he lived awhile") that can add a touch of class if used correctly. It is usually lengthened to "for a while" in today's common speech. In fact, if you CAN'T replace your "awhile" with "for a while", then "awhile" is wrong; you mean "a while."

The phrase I quoted above should have read "it took me a while."

Crimson Wife said...

Here I was guessing that the incorrect answer picked was (A), because someone who wasn't reading the passage closely might reasonably assume that "the phrase...had already been used there" implies that it had its origins in that location. I think that's the mistake my DD might make on this passage. I'll have to ask her.

Crimson Wife said...

Okay, my DD guessed (D) as well. She also did not know what the phrase "male chauvinist" meant. She knew that it had something to do with rudeness (she'd heard the term "chauvinist pig") but didn't know that it specifically referred to sexism. I guess that's a good thing, though clearly we'll need to do more work on inference questions before she takes the SAT for CTY in a few years.

Debbie Stier said...

@crimson Wife -- I did in fact pick A for the very reason you say. The word "first" made me know it wasn't an exact fit, and E was my second choice (though when I get down to two choices, I seem to always pick the wrong one). The phrase "outside of New York" was the reason I did not choose E. PWNtheSATs explanation made sense to me though.

ChemProf said...

OK, so I may be outing myself as a 13 year old with Asperger's, but I immediately rejected A and saw E as the only possible answer. As I saw it, just because a term was used in New York before it was common didn't mean it wasn't used even earlier some place else!

SteveH said...

If I started with E, I would have rejected it. It could have been common in Boston. Besides, they never claim that the term was common in New York City; only that it "had already been used there". And, if you want to be exact about it, they should say New York City, and not New York.

Is the goal to be legalistically picky or to find the most correct answer? The only way to come up with the answer is to compare them all, because they are all wrong.

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, so I may be outing myself as a 13 year old with Asperger's, but I immediately rejected A and saw E as the only possible answer.


Yup. That's the 13-year old with Asperger's factor!

Speaking of which, there is a fabulous autistic character on the show Alphas. He is a RIOT.

I think this is the first time I've seen an autistic character used as a source of humor on a TV show -- a good development to my mind.

Catherine Johnson said...

they are all wrong


The are all EVIL WRONG!!!

lgm said...

To me ,the goal on this one is to test the logic skills. Maybe it's because I just watched college week on Jeopardy and amused myself by figuring out which contestants were going to win which categories by the way the answer was written.

SteveH said...

"They are all EVIL WRONG!!!"

This assumes that they carefully did this on purpose. I don't know about that. It's clear that E is the best choice, but only after a process of elimination. Actually, I would be happier if I knew they did this on purpose. That way, one could learn to calibrate the difference between being picky and too picky.