Good news: a man by the name of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman thinks that he cracked the code for making SAT questions easier to interpret. Bad news: his theory was quickly proved to wrong by Professor Terry Burnham, Ph.D.
Kahneman had tested and found that students score higher on a test when the questions are physically harder to read through his own studies. This could be due to a strange font, small print, or a combination of the two. Kahneman used a specific test called the cognitive reflection test, or CRT, to study how his students would react when given a test where the font was normal versus a test where the font was barely legible. The results that Kahneman found were perplexing.
Kahneman reported to Burnham, who began to do studies of his own, that 90% of his students that saw the CRT in normal font made at least one mistake, but with barely legible font, there were only 35% of his students that made mistakes. How can performance increase when it is difficult to even read the question?! Or even better, can we make our brains work at a higher level that causes them to produce better results?
Burnham wanted to test both of these questions himself, because he was astonished by the outcome of Kahneman’s results. Being a professor himself, Burnham quickly typed up a test with normal font and one with difficult font, and tested it on his students that day. However, Professor Burnham’s students did not perform any differently with the hard-to-read test than the normal test.
Burnham consulted some other scholars on the subject matter; after three years of looking into Kahneman’s conclusion more, they have proved his theory to be untrue. The easy-to-read average score and the hard-to-read average score only differed by .01 of a question, based on 17 studies that included 3,657-3,710 people.
Unfortunately, Burnham or Kahneman do not provide some other solution to how to crack the SAT questions and make them easier to interpret; the mystery of test taking is still out there for us to discover. However, Burnham does warn of the credibility of information we take in, and the cautiousness we should take with powerful and important messages that may not be what they seem.