The College Board is again changing the SAT. So some folks are again charging that it's watering down the toughness of the test.

Yes, the latest move does eliminate some of what College Board officials call "arcane" words from the SAT's vocabulary section. But few students should shed any tears for the dropping of "lachrymose" from that definition test.

Yes, another change, announced last month, makes the "reasoning" essay part of the SAT optional - a questionable call considering the alarming inability of far too many young (and old) Americans to write clearly and correctly.

Then again, the essay section wasn't added until 2005. And before aging Americans who took an older version of the SAT decades ago assume that its new version will be too easy, they should put that theory - and themselves - to the test.

Just try to answer a couple of sample questions from the new SAT.


Wednesday's Newsday reported that one math question "cites an American tourist who makes a purchase in India costing 602 rupees in local currency. The traveler's bank posts a credit-card charge of $9.88, including a currency conversion fee of 4 percent. Test-takers must calculate the exchange rate to the nearest whole number: 63 rupees to the dollar."

Well? What's taking you so long?

As for reading comprehension, a sample question from the new SAT reprints powerful remarks by Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-Texas, during a 1974 hearing on President Richard Nixon's impeachment, then asks:

"The main rhetorical effect of the series of three phrases in lines 5-6 ('the diminution, the subversion, the destruction') is to a) convey with increasing intensity the seriousness of the threat Jordan sees to the Constitution; b) clarify that Jordan believes the Constitution was first weakened, then sabotaged, then broken; c) indicate that Jordan thinks the Constitution is prone to failure in three distinct ways; d) propose a three-part agenda for rescuing the Constitution from the current crisis."

And the main - or at least intended - rhetorical effect of this editorial:

Don't rush to judgment, arcane or otherwise, about how hard any test is - in or out of the academic arena - until you take it.