Why Do Standardized Tests Use Outdated Language?

~Prompts From Public Domain~

I’m not a teacher but I’m surrounded by them — Smart, well-educated academics who truly care about ending adult illiteracy. They have a genuine love of learning, an incredible amount of patience, and are willing to share their knowledge with others.


At one of their recent training sessions, I had the opportunity to review practice questions for the GED®and HiSET® — Ohio’s high school equivalency (HSE) tests. In particular, passages from the Reading Comprehension and Language Arts sections.

The purpose was to learn how to calculate fluency in reading, and to demonstrate the impact that basic word recognition has on fluency and comprehension. Simply put, if a student doesn’t recognize the individual words, he won’t be able to comprehend the meaning of them strung together in sentences and paragraphs.

And so, a room full of educators read a timed passage, and marked words that might trip up students — all in the hopes of determining the reading level of the prompts. We learned something I didn’t expect.

The writing prompts on standardized tests contain outdated language.

Modern language simply doesn’t use a lot of “whereof”s, “thusly”, and “thrice”s anymore – particularly when “what”, “so” and “three” work just fine. Yet these words appeared with regularity in the prompts.

Even more interesting, every person in the room initially struggled to define “fixity”, an actual word used in one of the passages.

No wonder adult learners grapple with reading comprehension. How can they answer questions ABOUT what they read, when they aren’t even sure WHAT they read? They aren’t required to learn just English…but also the outdated version of it that no one uses in everyday speech.


Why are these old-fashioned words and phrases being used? Are the test publishers just THAT out of touch with modern life?

Publishers are actually utilizing prompts from works found in public domain rather than writing their own. Public Domain is a legal term used to describe works that have expired copyrights, or works that were created before copyrights existed, such as plays by Shakespeare. By using passages found in public domain, publishers are able to save money because they don’t have to pay for the prompts they use, nor do they have to reinvent the wheel writing something new.


So what does this mean for educators like the teachers and tutors at Seeds of Literacy? What does this mean for students hoping to ace their HSEs?

This is a perfect example of bigger being better. A bigger vocabulary leads to better word recognition, which leads to better comprehension.

Work on vocabulary growth and word recognition. Learn new words each day and weave them into your everyday language.

You can start with fixity.”

Using context clues from the phrase “…the fixity of his stare”, we eventually determined it’s a noun for the state of being unchanging or permanent.

Just don’t let “fixity” describe your vocabulary.

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