Quick: Test Your Knowledge of SAT Vocabulary Words Before They Disappear Forever!

There is a new SAT exam in town, and it’s a major revision. This five-question quiz will test the limits of your vocabulary.


There is a new SAT exam in town, and it’s a major revision. The College Board summarizes the new test this way: “free world-class practice, optional essay, no penalty for guessing,” and — most alarmingly, for retro SAT Verbal fans, “vocab you’ll use long after test day.”

 That fourth feature heralds the death of “bellicose,” “indefatigable,” “niggardly,” and — my personal favorite — “pusillanimous.” The new test promises to test college-bound students only on “important, widely used words and phrases found in texts in many different subjects.” No more using “flashcards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down.” Instead, the SAT will test you on words “you will probably encounter in college or in the workplace long after test day.” The pitch is redolent of phlegmatic benignity, but the contumacious among us may suffer an even more pronounced dearth of jollity.

First they came for the antonyms. Readers of a certain age (roughly 40 and above) will recall these simple questions on the SAT Verbal test that rewarded raw vocab knowledge and were removed from the test in 1994. Something like this oldie, where all you need to do is find the word that means the opposite of the first one. (Keep track of your answers; you’ll score your test at the end):

1. obfuscate:

      A. languish

      B. respond

      C. clarify

      D. cloud

      E. reproach

Got it? The answer depends on your knowing what “obfuscate” means, but if you’re taking the old SAT, you already have a sense. The whole point of the exam was to cast simple ideas in obscure terms. The answer, if you haven’t got it by now, is (C).

More of you will remember, with horror or excitement, the analogies, dot-and-word-strewn questions that disappeared in 2005 when the College Board decided they were culturally discriminatory and revealed little about the test-taker’s academic promise. Here is an easy one:

2. wave : crest : : _________ : peak

  A. water  

  B. top

  C. moving

  D. mountain

For those who need a refresher in the punctuation, the single colon ( : ) should be read as “is to,” while the double colon (: :) means “as.” So the statement above is: “Wave is to crest as _______ is to peak.” In this example, the challenge is one of mere logic without the complicating addition of tough vocabulary. The best way to solve these is by telling a little story about the relationship between the first pair of words so that the missing word quickly becomes clear. So: “A crest is the highest point on a wave; and a peak is the highest point on a ______.” Yes, only “mountain” (D) completes the sentence.

With more difficult vocabulary, the analogies get quite a bit tougher. Try this one:

3. concomitant : accompanying : : __________

     A. loyal : staunch

     B. rough : texture

     C. separate : attached

     D. hard : granite

     E. tanned : leather

To answer this question, you need to know what “concomitant” means. As it happens, though you might not know this, the word is basically a fancier way to say “accompanying” — “con” suggests “with” and “comitant” is like “companion.” So you’re looking for synonyms. Starting from the bottom, in (E) you have an adjective that accurately describes a noun; same for (D). That’s a clue that both are wrong, since the correct answer cannot be a pair of words linked in the same way as another answer’s pair of words. (C) presents you with antonyms, while the first word in (B) gives you one possible type of the second word. Only (A) makes sense; “loyal” and “staunch” are pretty much synonymous: a “loyal” ally and a “staunch” ally are both your dependable friend.

Here’s another fairly hard one:

4. iconoclast : convention : :

     A. tailor : robe

     B. sycophant : love

     C. pariah : friendship

     D. anarchist : government

     E. fireman : safety

Here, the key is knowing what “iconoclast” means and not getting tripped up on “convention” by thinking that it indicates, in this context, a meeting. An iconoclast (literally, a person who smashes icons, or images used in religious worship) is somebody who bucks tradition, or, in other words, refuses to live by convention. Likewise, an anarchist refuses to live under government and doggedly opposes it. So (D) is the answer.  

The New Regime

But all of this is now useless and outmoded. No more exotic words. The new SAT asks you about the meaning of rather quotidian words in context. You’ll encounter a reading passage like this selection from Henry James:

She didn't rise, blushing, as a young girl at Geneva would have done; and yet Winterbourne, conscious that he had been very bold, thought it possible she was offended. "With your mother," he answered very respectfully.

5. In this passage, “conscious” most nearly means:

     A. responsive

     B. informed

     C. aware

     D. watchful

Compared to the old SAT, this is pretty easy. (You should be conscious by now that the answer is C, aware.) For more examples, you can check out the prep guide and sample tests available free at Khan Academy. The new test has definite advantages over the previous incarnation. It seems better tuned to actual learning in actual classrooms — and to success in college, careers, and real life — than selecting words like “abnegation,” “enervate,” and “prurient” for 17-year-olds to master. Yet let’s take this moment to pay homage to these deliciously obscure words, vocabulary that our children and grandchildren may never have occasion to encounter. Not to be maudlin, but let’s mourn the loss of the pulchritude of these words, redoubtable though they may be.

--

Steven V. Mazie is Professor of Political Studies at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan and Supreme Court correspondent for The Economist. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan. He is author, most recently, of American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court.

Image credit: shutterstock.com

Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.

Psychoanalysis

Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less