My baby is taking the PSAT today. For those of you who aren’t Americans, PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. Of course, he’s not really preliminary yet—that would be next year when he’s a junior. So this is a practice preliminary SAT. Which seems kind of redundant to me. But we take testing very seriously in the US. Though not as seriously as Europe.
Matt’s spent the last two weeks preparing for the PPSAT. (Not to be confused with the SSAT—secondary scholastic aptitude test, which is given to junior high students hoping to get into very academic high schools. Or at least it was when I was young.) Anyway, Matt was preparing by taking a PSAT prep writing quiz. He got an answer wrong and called me over.
Basically, he was supposed to read a sentence and then decide whether the sentence was correct as is, or if one of four other sentences presented the same information but in a better way. I read the sentence. I paused. What?? I re-read the sentence. I paused again. It was a piece of crap sentence with more clauses than Santa. Hmm. At least I knew it wasn’t “correct as is.” Then I read the four other sentences. Whoa. They were worse. Misplaced clauses. Weird verb issues. Parenthetical tripe.
Me: Uh, Matt, the right answer was “correct as is.”
Matt: But it doesn’t even make sense.
Me: It sort of does.
Matt: scowling and thinking “If I wrote that, you’d lecture me and make me rewrite it.”
Me: Okay, you’re right. The sentence is terrible, but it’s better than the other choices.
Matt: These tests are stupid.
Part of me understands why they test the kids on these kinds of sentences. If you’ve ever read a college textbook, you know too. Academic writing isn’t too concerned with clean writing. (I know, I worked in the Academic Press division of Harcourt.) For example, Luke is taking Scientific Writing for Chemists this semester, and all he does is give Powerpoint lectures on really exciting stuff like Acid-Base Theory. I understand that they’re preparing him to be a professor or a researcher because unless he was forced, Luke would never learn to use Powerpoint. But maybe, writing classes should encourage clean writing. Crisp sentences communicate clearly. Stuffy, pedantic writing isn’t smarter. It’s just stuffy.