A Trick For Higher SAT scores? Unfortunately no.
SAT高分有诀窍？很不幸，不是。

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a simple trick to score better on college entrance exams like the SAT and other tests?

There is a reputable claim that such a trick exists. Unfortunately, the trick does not appear to be real.

This is the story of an academic paper where I am a co-author with possible lessons for life both inside and outside the Academy.

In the spring of 2012, I was reading Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Professor Kahneman discussed an intriguing finding that people score higher on a test if the questions are hard to read. The particular test used in the study is the CRT or cognitive reflection task invented by Shane Frederick of Yale. The CRT itself is interesting, but what Professor Kahneman wrote was amazing to me,

2012年春，我读了诺贝尔奖获得者Daniel Kahneman的书《思考，快与慢》。Kahneman教授讨论了一个非常有趣的发现，如果考试时的问题很难看清，人们得分就会更高。这一研究中用到的具体考试，是由耶鲁大学的Shane Frederick发明的“认知反应任务”（CRT）【译注：应为“认知反应测试”，原文有误】。CRT本身很有意思，但Kahneman教授的说法更是令我惊愕。

“90% of the students who saw the CRT in normal font made at least one mistake in the test, but the proportion dropped to 35% when the font was barely legible. You read this correctly: performance was better with the bad font.”

“通过正常字体阅读CRT试卷的测试学生中，有90%至少会做错一道题，但如果试卷字体勉强才能辨认，这个比例就会下降到35%。把这句话读准了：坏字体伴随着好成绩。”

I thought this was so cool. The idea is simple, powerful, and easy to grasp. An oyster makes a pearl by reacting to the irritation of a grain of sand. Body builders become huge by lifting more weight. Can we kick our brains into a higher gear, by making the problem harder?

Malcolm Gladwell also thought the result was cool. Here is his description his book, David and Goliath:

The CRT is really hard. But here’s the strange thing. Do you know the easiest way to raise people’s scores on the test? Make it just a little bit harder. The psychologists Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer tried this a few years ago with a group of undergraduates at Princeton University. First they gave the CRT the normal way, and the students averaged 1.9 correct answers out of three. That’s pretty good, though it is well short of the 2.18 that MIT students averaged. Then Alter and Oppenheimer printed out the test questions in a font that was really hard to read … The average score this time around? 2.45. Suddenly, the students were doing much better than their counterparts at MIT.

As I read Professor Kahneman’s description, I looked at the clock and realized I was teaching a class in about an hour, and the class topic for the day was related to this study. I immediately created two versions of the CRT and had my students take the test – half with an easy to read presentation and half with a hard to read version.

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs$1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost? _____ cents

(1) 球棒和球共需1.1美元。球棒比球要贵1美元。请问球需多少美分？

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs$1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost? _____ cents (in my experiment, I used Haettenschweiler – I do not know how to get blogger to display Haettenschweiler).

(1) 球棒和球共需1.1美元。球棒比球要贵1美元。请问球需多少美分？（考试中，此处用的是Haettenschweiler字体）

Within 3 hours of reading about the idea in Professor Kahneman’s book, I had my own data in the form of the scores from 20 students. Unlike the study described by Professor Kahneman, however, my students did not perform any better statistically with the hard-to-read version. I emailed Shane Frederick at Yale with my story and data, and he responded that he was doing further research on the topic.

Roughly 3 years later, Andrew Meyer, Shane Frederick, and 8 other authors (including me) have published a paper that argues the hard-to-read presentation does not lead to higher performance.

The original paper reached its conclusions based on the test scores of 40 people. In our paper, we analyze a total of over 7,000 people by looking at the original study and 16 additional studies. Our summary:

Easy-to-read average score: 1.433 (17 studies, 3,657 people)

Hard-to-read average score: 1.423 (17 studies, 3,710 people)

Malcolm Gladwell wrote, “Do you know the easiest way to raise people’s scores on the test? Make it just a little bit harder.” The data suggest that Malcolm Gladwell’s statement is false. Here is the key figure from our paper with my annotations in red:

I take three lessons from this story.

1.Beware simple stories.
1.提防简单的故事

“The price of metaphor is eternal vigilance.” Richard Lewontin attributes this quote to Arturo Rosenblueth and Norbert Wiener.

“比喻的好处须以永恒的警惕换取。”Richard Lewontin将这一名言归于Arturo Rosenblueth 和 Norbert Wiener所说。

The story told by Professor Kahneman and by Malcolm Gladwell is very good. In most cases, however, reality is messier than the summary story.

2.Ideas have considerable “Meme-mentum”
2.观念具有相当大的“模因惯性”

And yet it moves,” This quote is attributed to Galileo when forced to retract his statement that the earth moves around the sun.

“但是它仍在运转”，这一名言被认为是伽利略被迫收回其地球绕日运动学说时所说。

The message is that It takes a long time to change conventional wisdom. The earth stayed at the center of the universe for many people for decades and even centuries after Copernicus.

I expect that the false story as presented by Professor Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell will persist for decades. Millions of people have read these false accounts. The message is simple, powerful, and important. Thus, even though the message is wrong, I expect it will have considerable momentum (or meme-mentum to paraphrase Richard Dawkins).

One of my favorite examples of meme-mentum concerns stomach ulcers. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren faced skepticism to their view that many stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria (Helicobacter pylori). Professor Marshall describes the scientific response to his idea as ridicule; in response he gave himself an ulcer drinking the bacteria. Marshall gives a personal account of his self-infection in his Nobel Prize acceptance video (the self-infection portion starts at around 25:00).

3.We can measure the rate of learning.
3.我们可以测量学习的速率

We can measure the rate of learning. Google scholar counts the number of times a paper is cited by other papers. I believe that well-informed scholars who cite the original paper ought to cite the subsequent papers. We can watch in real-time to see if that is true.

Paper 论文

Comment 备注

citations as of April 20, 2015 2015.4.20之前引用数

citations as of today 迄今为止引用数

Alter et al. (2007). “Overcoming intuition: metacognitive difficulty activates analytic reasoning.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 136(4): 569. Alter等人（2007）。“克服直觉：元认知困难能激活分析推理”，《实验心理学杂志：总论》 136（4）:569

344

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Thompson et al. (2013). “The role of answer fluency and perceptual fluency as metacognitive cues for initiating analytic thinking.” Cognition 128(2): 237-251. Thompson等人（2013）。“回答流利性和感知流利性作为推动分析推理的元认知触发物”，《认知》 128（2）：2237-251

38 click for current count 点击链接查看当前数字

Meyer et al. (2015). “Disfluent fonts don’t help people solve math problems.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 144(2): e16. Meyer等人（2015）。“繁难字体对于人们解决数学问题并无助益”，《实验心理学杂志：总论》 144（2）: e16

Our paper summarizing the original study and 16 others. 我们概述原初研究和后续16项研究的论文

0 (this “should” increase at least as fast as citations for Alter et. al, 2007) 0（引用数的增长速度“本应”至少与Alter等人2007年论文相同）

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