Anyone who has attended an American high school has likely spent some time preparing for the SAT. The SAT is a measure of student competence and mastery of the material that all students should have a command of upon leaving high school.
What Is the SAT?
The SAT is a standardized test that is administered to American high school students who are hoping to matriculate at a college or university. While certain schools like community colleges or vocational schools do not require students to submit their SAT score, most four-year colleges and universities do require the submission of a score as a prerequisite for admission.
The SAT has three sections: a math section, a verbal section and a writing section. The verbal section tests students' grasp of the English language, reading comprehension and vocabulary. The math section tests students' command of algebra, precalculus and geometry. The writing section, by contrast, is designed to test a student's ability to compose a written argument based on reading comprehension and the ability to structure a five-paragraph essay.
Fill-in-the-blank questions about vocabulary and syntax and reading comprehension questions characterize the majority of the verbal section. Historically, the SAT had a section devoted to analogies. SAT analogies are recognizable by their format. The classic "blank is to blank as blank is to blank" format is what former students recognize from SAT test preparation.
The SAT Analogy Questions
Although the SAT analogies section is a classic piece of the test and was used to measure students' understanding of various vocabulary words, the section was removed from the test in 2005. While many students were unaware of this and continued to prepare for that section of the test, the fact is that test administrators felt that a key element of reading comprehension was largely absent when using analogies as an assessment tool.
The original SAT analogies were questions that asked you to demonstrate your knowledge of a vocabulary word by being able to identify relationships between other words that were defined similarly. These word analogies relied on students' understanding of the definitions of the presented words. They then had to select two words from the list presented in the multiple-choice answer section that had a similar relationship.
Why Were SAT Analogy Questions Removed?
In 2005, the board that puts together the SAT renamed the verbal reasoning section as the "critical reading" section. During the retooling of this section, the analogy questions were highlighted as being unnecessarily tricky and largely irrelevant to life outside of high school or in the workforce. In other words, the analogies were seen as being useless at developing any skill that a student might need outside of taking that test.
In addition to the analogies being termed as needlessly complicated and ultimately irrelevant, there was also criticism about the questions being biased toward particular cultural and socioeconomic groups. Many words were identified as being the province of coastal elites: for example, a question that expects students to know the definition of the words "oarsman" and "regatta."
The vocabulary was believed to be slightly more advanced than the average student could be expected to command and was also believed to be the kind of questions that were easier to learn for students who were able to afford private tutoring. Because of the "blank is to blank as blank is to blank" structure of the question, the ability to use context while attempting to identify a word you don't know was utterly absent. Researchers argued that the skill involved in using context to decipher meaning was far more valuable than the ability to correctly guess the meaning of two vocabulary words.
How to Prepare for Analogy Questions
While the SAT did away with analogy questions, the fact remains that many other assessments may use analogies to determine students' command of various vocabulary words. Because of the absence of context in these questions, the best way to prepare for this sort of test is to make sure that you have a precise understanding of the vocabulary words for which you are supposed to be responsible.
Beyond that, an understanding of how these words relate to one another is critical. It is the relationship between the words that gives the analogy its nuance. Regardless of whether the definitions of the two sets of words are the same, if you're able to find similarity in their relationships, you'll likely be successful with any analogy questions.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.