Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How NOT To Write A Blog Comment

Image result for Abbie Salny
Dr. Abbie Salny - interviewed several years ago. She was responsible for the decision to no longer accept the SAT as an aptitude test and hence as an alternative entry test for Mensa.

This post could be put under the banner of educational, mainly for the benefit of anyone who wishes to render an extended comment expressing a point of view in response to a post. In this case the (recent) comment in question is in response to an August 11, 2013 post regarding Mensa ceasing to use the SAT (and other tests) for entry because they were no longer deemed aptitude tests but achievement.

The commenter's first problem is posting with no profile, as "Unknown" which undermines the cogency of his or her POV from the outset. Despite that, I am ok with posting an unknown's (no profile) comment but do expect the person to then make the case and with such clarity there is no wiggle room for misinterpretation.  But this was not done. Below I give the comment and my criticisms of each section, which others may want to note for future reference:


Am I the only one who's even looked up the changes? In case you haven't, here's what they did to make it test "exclusively what has been taught in school:"

-Removed antonyms (because they relied too much on prior knowledge)
-Changed the number of verbal questions from 85 to 78
-Replaced the TSWE with two 15-minute math and verbal sections at the end of the test
-Added ten "open-response" math problems
-Allowed calculators for the math sections
-Increased the amount of reading comprehension questions to compose ~50% of the verbal.


The intro is all wrong. As if the writer was never taught how to make his or her case in representing a  clear point of view when staking out a position or opinion. Instead of initiating the comment with a clear position he immediately asks a question about "looking up the changes" to the SAT. This makes one suspect that the topic or argument concerns the changes, which are then stated.

But where is it all leading?

The writer goes on:

As you can see, that totally makes the SAT cover absolutely NOTHING but learned material. Literally just learned material.

Actually, we don't know that because no reasoning  has been offered showing that these changes constitute only "learned material".  The reader is expected to just assume they do, i.e. removing antonyms because "they rely too much on prior knowledge". How so? He has not explained. In what way do  antonyms do this and for what kind of prior knowledge? (For reference, the GRE aptitude test - so designated by Mensa- that I took had a significant section on antonyms. *) All we have then is a veritable vacuum when one would like to see justification. Even by this point, if I was marking him on an essay I'd have him at D-minus.

More to come:

Oh, and with the ACT?

-Recentered the English and Math scores
-Replaced the SOCIAL STUDIES and NATURAL SCIENCES sections with general reading and scientific reasoning sections.
-Made the English less grammar-based and put more emphasis on writing skills (once again changing it to exclusively learn-able stuff)

You know, you cannot learn the causes fall of the Roman Empire, or scientific facts.

Remember in history class, when before tests the teacher told you that he didn't actually teach anything and it was all up to your innate mental abilities to know about events such as the Dark Ages and the Incans? Studying history is completely pointless.


Here s/he jumps completely from the basis of the English-Math part of the ACT to history ("causes of the fall of the Roman Empire") and "scientific facts" - which we are informed "you cannot learn".. Again, no explanation of why.   He then rails against putting more emphasis on writing skills (which it is evident he needs) and claims this is tantamount to "exclusively learnable stuff", but with no explanation or argument how he goes from A to B.  He either assumes here the reader is privy to some inside knowledge, or is simply going to take his word.

The diversion to "the fall of the Roman empire" is itself distracting and displays a lack of coherent thought or argument, not to mention historical insight.  He also makes an unsupported, ridiculous claim that one "cannot learn the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire" or scientific facts - which is nonsense. Of course one can learn the putative reason for the Roman Empire's fall which is largely attributed to military overstretch. As for scientific facts, last I taught a calculus physics class I knew not one student who hadn't learned already that all objects fall freely  (at the acceleration g)  in Earth's gravitational field .   Though g can vary from place to place because the Earth's radius slightly varies place to place. SO what the hell is he talking about?

The "unknown" would have done better by confining attention to why the changes in the English -Math parts of the ACT he lists were off base, but doesn't. We are just dragged along in this nebulous aside and with no idea what the writer's central point is.

Then there's the further diversion to some innominate  "history class", and the rapid conclusion "it's completely pointless" - again, without making a clear, cogent case for claiming this.  We are merely expected to accept the "pointless" assertion without a single reason or even example.

Then we read this:

And what's even philosophical about changing a test from aptitude to achievement? "We need to sound smart."

At this point the writer has me scratching my head. Is he with Mensa's change  vis-a-vis the SAT or against it?  He seems to be with it, in asking why the change from aptitude to achievement, but it is not clear again because his argumentation and presentation is too weak and incoherent.  One is also led to inquire the insertion of the "philosophical"  attribute - as if the change is ultimately reduced to one of testing philosophy - which it isn't.   It is based on specific test parameters that distinguish the set of aptitude type questions from those of achievement only.

For example, a physics achievement question might be: Describe the principle of operation of a basic, glass-enclosed greenhouse.

But an aptitude type problem would be:

Describe the nature of the thermal insulation you'd require on Mars (solar constant  =  539  Wm-2 )and how you would assemble it to be equivalent to a 1000 m-3  greenhouse  on Earth. Indicate the thickness of the material needed.

Lastly, we read:

And when changing it, the College Board actually said that the SAT was never supposed to be something unable to be learned. They said they were making it better-aligned with school material. Therefore, the pre-1994 tests are also 100% achievement-based because they said so. After-all, corporations never lie.

TL;DR: No one in Mensa even bothered to look up the content changes


In my response to his remarks I agreed with his take about the College Board in the top paragraph, but not with his take in his last line.

How does he KNOW Mensa "never bothered to look up the content changes"?  He makes the statement baldly without any evidence, only assuming such because my original post did not mention any particulars.  But Dr. Salny did make it clear in the Mensa Research Journal that this was done and she showed the parameters considered.  Just because "Unknown" didn't see it in my post doesn't mean it wasn't done.

In my response comment I pointed out that Mensa had indeed done its duty in regard to the initial content changes of the SAT, which is why they ceased classifying it as an aptitude test. But Mensa did not keep track of content changes to achievement tests thereafter. Why would they have?

A snarky reply was offered: "Let me just say that you're lucky the SAT didn't have many reading comprehension questions back in the day. "

To which I responded:

Actually, I don't believe I am the one with the reading comprehension issues. I believe it is you, Mr. or Miss "Unknown". Part of the problem is also your vague writing, in being unable to make a strong and coherent argument. Is your primary case or issue with looking up the changes, or the changes themselves? Are you trying to argue that aptitude tests don't really make the cut any more than achievement tests? Or are you just arguing that Mensa failed to take each into account?

Try to focus your mind more and present a case for or against whatever it is you are arguing - pro or con. You presented the stats applicable to the changes, now make the argument and form a solid conclusion with a minimum of distracted prose and nebulosity.

All of which is substantiated by reference to my preceding criticisms.

The takeaway here is if you have a comment to make which is concerning a post, and is representing a specific point of view in response, then you are obliged to make that POV clear. The comment in question did not, but we shall hope that at least something in the way of more coherent writing is learned from it.

* Some of the GRE antonym questions from 1985 Verbal Section:

Each question contains a word in capital letters then five lettered choices. Choose the one that is most nearly opposite in meaning to the word in capitals:


(A) genial (B) devout   (C) distinguished  (D) quick-witted  (E) heavy-handed


(A) fulfillment  (B) activity  (C) renascence (D) resistance  (E) continuance


(A) appreciation (B) deception  (C) modesty (D) stinginess  (E) anxiety


(A) insecure  (B) unwise  (C) inept  (D) lacking consequence  (E) without probability


(A) deceive  (B) garner  (C)  constrain ( D) confirm ( E) conjoin

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